Gloria Victis a victim of his own brilliance

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The Independent Online

The biggest gamble of them all failed terribly at Cheltenham yesterday. And no wallet was touched, no pocket emptied and no bet struck. For once, the traditional joust between the punter and the bookmaker which is such an irresistible theme of the three days was revealed as so much nonsense. The only one who paid the price of his own brilliance was Gloria Victis.

Racing is a strange world at the best of times, locked into its own rhythms, speaking in a shorthand understood only by its own. But everyone was able to appreciate the choice that owner Terry Neill, along with trainer Martin Pipe, made a week ago. The racing world willed the pair to take their chance with the thrilling young chaser. The Gold Cup, in truth, needed the extra plotline to turn a humdrum match between See More Business, the champion, and the pretender, Looks Like Trouble, into a race of infinite possibility.

Suddenly, Gloria Victis, not yet six, was thrust into the ranks of the professionals, moved into the Sixth Form, asked to do a man's job and though the experts talked knowingly of the precocity of French-bred horses, of Gloria Victis's outstanding athleticism, none of them had to negotiate 22 fences of the least forgiving course in the land in the company of some wily old warriors bent on exploiting every weakness.

"You said: 'Go for It', the trainer told the Racing Post on the day the fateful decision was made, "and so we took your advice."

No one should blame Pipe or Neill. No one ever lost a race with the benefit of hindsight. But, as they laid out the green screens to shield tender souls from the reality of their enjoyment, both owner and trainer must have bitterly regretted their bravado.

For a moment, there was hope. Gloria Victis, who had led the field from the tape until falling two fences from home without showing the flamboyance of his fateful victory at Kempton, rose gingerly to his feet. Only later, after the racecourse ambulance had driven away to the stables, did the news seep through that a fleetingly glorious career had ended with a bullet to the head. The statement from the course was chillingly and unavoidably simple.

"Having been taken off the course by ambulance for further assessment, the nature of the injury to the cannon and sesamoid bones was such that they were impossible to repair," Peter Webbon, the Jockey Club vet, said.

"A decision was made with the owner and the trainer on humane grounds that Gloria Victis be put down. The owner and trainer explored every option as to whether anything could be done to save the horse. Sadly, it could not." For Webbon too, these are moments to dread.

In the weighing-room, Tony McCoy, the hardest of hard men, was inconsolable. He stood in line to weigh in, ignoring the relieved chatter around him. Once his duty was done, he found a corner all to himself and lowered his head into his hands. No one knew what to say.

The previous day, McCoy had ridden the race of his life - and there are a few contenders for that particular honour - on Edredon Bleu. Relief was the foremost of his emotions then. After a bewilderingly blank opening day, he had a Cheltenham winner to take back to the weighing-room with him. And that was the only negotiable currency. Not yesterday.

He would not be human if his deeper reflections did not contain an element of guilt. Gloria Victis could have been given a softer alternative and, in a phrase of poignant accuracy, lived to fight another day. But if anyone could have nursed the tender novice round the three and a quarter miles of the Gold Cup, teaching him the ways of serious chasing along the way, it was the champion.

Yet McCoy's strength was not enough to persuade Gloria Victis to change the habit of a young lifetime. Consistently, the horse jumped to the right, losing length after length until, tiring coming to the second last and feeling the breath of Looks Like Trouble and Florida Pearl on his neck, he stumbled through the fence and buckled on landing.

Jockeys have a well developed sense of these things and McCoy's instant reaction was to leap to his feet and check on his horse. He must have known the worst there and then.

Later, on his way to saddle other runners in another race, Martin Pipe scurried past the little interview room behind the weighing-room where the champagne was flowing and the talk was exclusively of victory. He is not a reflective man, Martin Pipe, but even he must have wondered at the distance he has yet to travel. In a career which has reduced racing statistics to ninepins, the Gold Cup has eluded him. He will be back next year, of course. The sadness for him as for the rest of us is that Gloria Victis will not.