Monsignor lands a massive gamble

The roar said it all as Monsignor cleared the last flight in the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle here yesterday. Only Istabraq, on Tuesday, has received one like it this week, and as he galloped up the hill with only fresh air behind him, the noise which enveloped Monsignor was the sound of the betting ring losing half a million pounds.

The roar said it all as Monsignor cleared the last flight in the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle here yesterday. Only Istabraq, on Tuesday, has received one like it this week, and as he galloped up the hill with only fresh air behind him, the noise which enveloped Monsignor was the sound of the betting ring losing half a million pounds.

There was one bet of £40,000 to win £60,000, and two more of £30,000 to win £45,000, among the tidal wave of cash which Monsignor surfed to victory. He was the banker of the week for many backers from both sides of the Irish Sea, and their payout was never in danger from the moment Norman Williamson sent him on with half a mile to run.

It was a magnificent performance, all the more so because Monsignor has the physique of a horse who needs to jump fences. Despite this, though, he has now won at the Festival both on the flat, in last year's Bumper, and over timber. When he goes over the big obstacles, there is every reason to think that his streak at the Festival could be extended.

"Where can you find a chink in his armour?" Mark Pitman, his trainer, said afterwards, only to answer his own question a second later. "You can't. He's the sort of horse that you just have to go to bed every night and pray that he stays well."

The move to fencing will now follow swiftly for Monsignor. "I don't think we'll be taking on Istabraq in next year's Champion," Pitman said. "Malcolm [Denmark] bought him as a chaser and he is a staying horse, so I think that's where we'll be going with him. I've ridden some good chasers, like Garrison Savannah and Royal Athlete, but none of them could have done what this horse has done over hurdles." The Tote offer 33-1 about Monsignor for next year's Gold Cup, while Victor Chandler go 12-1 that he will win the race in one of the next four years.

The Cheltenham hill was at its capricious best in the Coral Cup, which seemed a foregone conclusion as Native Dara jumped the last flight five lengths to the good. He stopped almost to nothing within sight of the line, however, and allowed What's Up Boys, who started at 33-1 and paid 73-1 on the Tote, to cut him down.

"I thought we might perhaps be in the first six jumping the last," Philip Hobbs, his trainer, said. "I am amazed that he has got up to win."

The Bumper too was won with a late flourish, as Charlie Swan produced Joe Cullen to pass Inca, the hot favourite, in the final furlong. The winner is trained by Willie Mullins - who also saddled the third and fourth horses home - and owned by his wife, Jackie. Anyone with some spare cash could have bought him before the race, though, since Mullins has been trying to sell him for weeks without success.

"I offered him to Noel O'Callaghan 10 minutes before the race, but he just laughed at me," Mullins said. "The horse is still for sale, but I might have to renegotiate the price."

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