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Outback Way too tough

By Sue Montgomery at Cheltenham

By Sue Montgomery at Cheltenham

14 November 1999

Who dares wins, and it was Norman Williamson here yesterday. In the decisive move of the Murphy's Gold Cup he of the stormin' sobriquet launched The Outback Way, his willing partner, at the last fence like a lightning bolt. The tactic won the day; the near-black nine-year-old flashed fast and low over the fence and landed running and, although his momentum slackened up the steep climb to the finish, he had poached enough of an advantage to repel the late flourish from Stormy Passage by a neck.

Williamson's style was in sharp contrast to that of Andrew Thornton on the runner-up, although, in fairness, on the approach to the obstacle his mount had seemed safely held. Thornton played safe and popped before asking Stormy Passage for an effort and when the ground-devouring response came it seemed to catch him almost unawares. His urgings may have come too late, for which he could arguably be blamed, but the view of the local stewards that they were not too little is surely wide of the mark.

Their decision to refer Thornton to the disciplinary committee in London over his use of the whip left an unsatisfactory shadow over a stirring contest. "I'm a horseman and I don't abuse horses," said the aggrieved jockey, "I gave him six smacks after the last and he responded each time. I've been riding for 11 years and I've never once been in front of the stewards for excessive force."

In taking the season's first high-profile steeplechase, The Outback Way put the spotlight firmly back on Venetia Williams, his trainer, who has had a quiet enough start to the season by her high standards. The gelding, who runs in the colours of a holiday company, had warmed up with a victory over the course and distance last month. "His great asset is that he is terribly athletic and quick through the air," she said, "and you can put him anywhere at a fence and he'll cope." It was second time around for the victorious team in the race that started life as the Mackeson Gold Cup. Nine years ago Williamson was on board Multum In Parvo and Williams was assistant to John Edwards, his trainer.

The Irishman is convinced that the long-term future for The Outback Way, who will return here next month for the Tripleprint Gold Cup, lies at Aintree. "I know it is a long way off but if we got fast ground he could be a National horse. He has a high cruising speed and his jumping is a huge asset."

Although The Outback Way appeared to be fading at the end of yesterday's extended two and a half miles, Williamson did not ascribe it to lack of stamina. "Going to the last there was no way he was going to stop up the hill. But he was caught out by the funnel effect of the noise and the crowds. If there had been another fence he would still have been galloping."

The outsider Sounds Like Fun plugged on into third place ahead of the early pace-setter Northern Starlight. But the big disappointments were the two market leaders Call Equiname, who was pulled up, and Majadou, eighth. Mick Fitzgerald was hard at work on Call Equiname as the field passed the stands first time and called it a day at the tenth. The grey's mystified trainer Paul Nicholls said later: "He finished distressed, though he's sound, which is the main thing. He had been working beautifully but in the race he just had no sparkle."

The day after David Nicholson announced his imminent retirement another career came to an end. The jockey Graham Bradley's greatest moments came here - on Bregawn in the 1983 Gold Cup and on Collier Bay in the 1996 Champion Hurdle - but after steering Ontheboil home at Haydock he announced the end of his 20-year career. Bradley, born a month before Fortria won the first Mackeson in 1960, was suspected, arrested and cleared over allegations of race-fixing earlier this year and had been looking for one final winner in the six months since. He said: "I was very keen on riding another winner. I didn't want anyone else to finish me, not the police, the Jockey Club or the Press. I'm going to miss it like mad, but I know I couldn't go on for ever."