Florida win fails to hide stamina flaw

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The Independent Online

It was, once again, a victory for Florida Pearl in the Hennessy Cognac Irish Gold Cup yesterday, but there were, once again, dark overtones about his capacity to add the British version to his accomplishments.

It was, once again, a victory for Florida Pearl in the Hennessy Cognac Irish Gold Cup yesterday, but there were, once again, dark overtones about his capacity to add the British version to his accomplishments.

Willie Mullins's gelding was winning the Leopardstown event for the third time (equalling Jodami's record in the race) and there are hopes that the nine-year-old will make it third time lucky in the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.

Florida Pearl did everything right apart from convincing that his Festival pattern of a third two years ago and runner-up to Looks Like Trouble last season could follow a trend and lead him into the winners' enclosure at Prestbury Park.

Florida Pearl was the hot favourite yesterday and then untouchable in the ring after Nick Dundee dropped like a sack of coals at the second ditch. It was an ominous fall from a horse that almost lost it all at the third-last fence of the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Festival two years ago.

The last time Nick Dundee capsized it was almost the end of him and recovery was an interminable process. Here though he was soon back on his feet and able to watch events unfold after being remounted by Norman Williamson.

Florida Pearl may have been dainty over the first few jumps, but once the oil was flowing through the machinery he was convincingly the best jumper. He nodded along pleasingly at the head of the field, just behind his stablemate Alexander Banquet, who was playing the pathfinder. It has been obvious since his bumper days that the nine-year-old has the speed for this game, and this ability, allied with fencing prowess, makes him a formidable opponent.

Yet, a fallibility remains. As he swept off the top bend victory was certain, but in the straight the gear stick moved from cruise to close to neutral. Alexander Banquet was under considerable pressure from Barry Geraghty, but appeared to be little better than running on the spot. This, nevertheless, was enough for him to close the gap on the leader.

Florida Pearl became instantly tired on the run-in, and Richard Johnson, who was substituting for the injured Ruby Walsh, was forced to pull him back on a straight line on more than one occasion. At the post, there was only two lengths in it, and the winner was certainly glad it was over. It was undoubtedly a serious test in the ground, but nothing to compare with the assignment he will be asked to accomplish in five weeks' time.

It seems there will always be a horse to beat Florida Pearl in the Gold Cup, yet it is hard to imagine three animals doing so. He was cut to 10-1 by William Hill in the aftermath of this success, and while it is unlikely that collection on a win portion of a bet will be forthcoming, he looks ideal place material. Start your Cheltenham placepot now, and start by filling his name in on the Thursday card.

Dorans Pride was a further nine lengths back in third, while Commanche Court came home a tired fourth. Native Upmanship was pulled up after blundering when already beaten at the second last.

In the debriefing, Johnson said his mount was as good as ever and that he had been only idling in front. This ignored two points: a. he had never ridden the horse before; b. Florida Pearl was actually knackered.

The jockey was quite overcome. "I can see why Richard Dunwoody thought so much of him," he said. "He loved the ground, but he just idled a bit in front.

"I think he's as good as there is. I know First Gold beat him at Kempton, but he'll be better on a stiff track and I think he'll be very hard to beat at Cheltenham this year." Dream on.

Musselburgh inspect

Racing today at Musselburgh, where snow is forecast, hangs on a 6.30am inspection. The card at Fontwell has already been abandoned due to waterlogging - the 74th meeting this season to be lost to the weather. There will be an inspection at Market Rasen at 8.30am today ahead of tomorrow's meeting. Racing on the chase course is under threat and the BHB has approved an all-hurdle card.