With a performance yesterday to delight the eye and gladden the heart of any horseman, Timmy Murphy and Celestial Gold gave the Martin Pipe stable the much-needed morale boost of a high-profile win at a high-profile meeting. After the trainer's first blank Cheltenham for 18 years, and the nadir of a four per cent strike rate in March, victory in the Betfair Bowl was, 48 hours before a five-pronged Nicholashayne attack on the Grand National, both welcome and timely.
Pipe has conceded defeat in the battle to keep his perennially held trainers' title - yesterday's £85,000 first prize hardly dented Paul Nicholls' £750,000 advantage on the leader board - but he has lost none of the skill that has brought him 15 championships. The Grade Two three-mile contest was in effect Celestial Gold's first race since last year's Gold Cup; he raced for only a mile in this year's renewal of the Blue Riband before unseating Murphy at the 10th obstacle.
David Johnson's classy eight-year-old went to yesterday's fray so fit, fresh and well that his rider's only real problem was curbing his bounding enthusiasm during a first circuit run at ordinary gallop despite the presence of the confirmed trailblazers See You Sometime and Ollie Magern. The set of Celestial Gold's head, bent sideways over his bit like a tautly strung bow, told the tale and Murphy needed every strand of silk in his hands to keep the big gelding settled off the pace. His accomplishment of the task of containing the power beneath him and letting it creep forward gradually was a masterclass.
"I was always happy," said the Irishman, "even though they did not go as quick as I'd thought they would up front. I was trying to conserve him, but every time he got to a fence he was winging it, and that ground gained was putting him back into the race again, and I was having to start from scratch getting him switched off each time."
As the leaders dropped back, Take The Stand and L'Ami led the way into the home run, with Celestial Gold, the brakes finally released, poised behind them. L'Ami, the 5-2 favourite, was the first to crack after less than fluent leaps at the first two fences in the straight. Celestial Gold's first mistake, a minor one, came two out and left the advantage with Take The Stand and Tony Dobbin going to the final and, as it proved, decisive obstacle.
Both Murphy and Dobbin, went into it with the revs up, fully committed. Celestial Gold met it right and landed running; Take The Stand was half a stride out and made such a catapulting mistake that Dobbin did exceptionally well not only to remain in the saddle but regain enough momentum and balance to retain second place, seven lengths behind the winner and two and a half in front of L'Ami.
"Dobbs missing the last sealed it," Murphy said, "but he is a seriously good horse and he jumped fantastically well. He's been kept fresh on purpose for these kinds of races; he was a million dollars in the Gold Cup and who knows what would have happened it I'd stayed on him then?"
The first of the week's contests over the National fences, the Fox Hunters' Chase for amateurs, produced another notable feat of training as Katarino, running for the first time since winning 12 months previously, notched back-to-back victories for the Corinthian family Waley-Cohen. Conditioned by father Robert and ridden by son Sam, the 11-year-old, winner of a Triumph Hurdle in his palmy days, treated the spruce fences with surefooted contempt to win by a never-threatened seven lengths.
"I always try to envisage a race beforehand," said the elated jockey, "but this was better than I could ever have made it up in my head. We had a few niggles with the horse in the run-up to the race and we couldn't have put more time and effort into him - he's had all our hopes and dreams on him. I don't think you'll ever see a horse go round here better than this one."
In the hurdle races, one of last month's Festival formlines was reversed and another upheld as Richard Johnson notched a double. In the opening marathon, Mighty Man, third in the World Hurdle, took revenge on his conqueror My Way De Solzen on 4lb better terms, livelier ground and a flatter track. And Detroit City became the first since Pollardstown in 1979 to complete the Cheltenham-Aintree double when he added the Grade One juvenile two-miler to his Triumph Hurdle victory with a gritty eight-length defeat of Premier Dane.
Ruby Walsh also rode a double, scoring in the last two races on the card with Natal and Rhacophorus.
Hyperion's TV Tips
2.00 Star De Mohaison, who carries the standard for Cheltenham Festival winners here, should again be stood in good stead by his jumping. But he benefited from mishaps to several rivals in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, among them BOLD BISHOP, who was travelling strongly when hampered and unseating his rider four out. Jonjo O'Neill's nine-year-old has proved himself in open handicap. Commercial Flyer is highly regarded in the Martin Pipe camp and could come good again after a Cheltenham disappointment, like his stablemate Celestial Gold yesterday. But he had blundered before being pulled up in the SunAlliance and is the least experienced member of the field over fences.
2.35 BLACK JACK KETCHUM was the most impressive winner at the Festival and should still be fresh enough to follow up. However, Neptune Collonges is a dangerous opponent and will be well served by any deterioration in the going.
3.10 Impek should be closely matched with the Ryanair Chase winner Fondmort on 3lb better terms than those on which they met at Cheltenham. They look a cut above the Irish contingent, but the novice DON'T BE SHY, who beat Mr McGoldrick at Lingfield in February, will be better suited by this trip than when an outpaced fifth in the Arkle Trophy and has the most scope for improvement.
3.45 HAKIM, who jumped so impressively when winning over the Grand Sefton Chase over course and distance in November, looks the most dependable option. Sam Waley-Cohen has a good record over the National fences, but his mount Liberthine has been struggling for form.
4.20 Straw Bear was worried out of victory in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham and could prove vulnerable again. WELCOME STRANGER, a far superior horse on the Flat, made a smooth debut over hurdles last month and has the class to step up in grade.Reuse content