Paris Pike reels in the Scottish National prize

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One of the last hurrahs of the domestic jump season produced a cheer to keep on ice for next term as Paris Pike, an eight-year-old novice trained by Ferdy Murphy, turned yesterday's Scottish Grand National into a procession. The dark- brown gelding, running in only his sixth steeplechase, barely touched a twig round a demanding three circuits of the Ayr track and landed as brightly over the last of the 27 fences as he did over the first.

"Absolutely brilliant," was Adrian Maguire's reaction from the saddle. "I think we may have a Gold Cup horse," added Murphy from the ground. "I am so proud I think I am going to cry," prompted owner Ivan Straker.

Paris Pike, winner of his previous three outings in considerably lesser company but clearly progressive, went off the 5-1 joint favourite with Cheltenham winner Marlborough and jumped to the front passing the stands with a circuit to go. He could be called the winner some way from home, most especially after doubtful stayer Marlborough, smuggled round by Mick Fitzgerald, went from cruise control to reverse in a few strides early in the home straight. He returned with blood pouring from a leg.

The lightly-weighted Noble Lord, carrying a stone less than Paris Pike, stayed on past Young Kenny to take the runner-up spot three lengths adrift. But it was a sterling effort from Young Kenny, last year's winner, under top-weight on ground much faster than he likes, just a week after his tenth-fence fall in the real thing at Aintree. Spendid was fourth, ahead of Ambleside and Marlborough. But it was a run too far for Samlee. The 11-year-old, third in the Grand National two years ago, collapsed and died of a heart attack.

The National is a long-term target for Paris Pike; Straker, a former chairman at Ayr, hopes one day to go one better than his second place with The Tsarevich 13 years ago. But the young horse's calibre will be tested at a higher level first. "He has a long way to go from here," said Murphy, "but he just could go all the way."

Mister Morose followed up his win at Aintree with a victory in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, though his task was eased by the withdrawal of Dato Star and the first-flight exit of Master Beveled.

Further afield there were mixed fortunes for the first two chasers from Britain to compete in Japan. Venetia Williams-trained The Outback Way, fourth in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on his previous run, finished a perfectly respectable third in the hugely valuable Nakayama Grand Jump, but Charlie Mann's unlucky Celibate was brought down three out when travelling well.

The winner of the £475,000 contest, open to foreigners for the first time, was the locally-trained 1.9-1 favourite Gokai, who beat French challenger Boca Boca (Francois Doumen) three-quarters of a length. The Outback Way, ridden by Norman Williamson, was five lengths back, followed in by Maybe Rough (New Zealand) and Sydney Opera (Australia).

But, really, the jump season is winding down. Though yesterday's Greenham Stakes card at Newbury was abandoned because of an unsafe waterlogged track, the focus is now sharpening on preps for the spring and summer Classic races. And Berkshire's loss may be Suffolk's gain; the Greenham Stakes, one of the best guides to top-level mile form, has been rescheduled as the opening contest of the Craven meeting at Newmarket on Tuesday.

This gives Barry Hills a choice of races for the eagerly awaited first public sighting of 2000 Guineas favourite Distant Music. Khaled Abdullah's colt, winner of the Dewhurst last year, had had Thursday 's Craven Stakes pencilled in after being pulled out of the Greenham during the week because of anticipated bad ground. But the transferred seven-furlong contest, which involves no Group One penalty, may be more attractive.

One of Hills' lesser lights, Race Leader, judged barely fit to polish Distant Music's shoes at home, gave a considerable clue to the well-being of the stable star as he lived up to his name at Thirsk yesterday. The Classic Trial at the Yorkshire course produced three Guineas winners, Nimbus, Nearula and Pall Mall, in the 10 years from 1949 but has not come up with the goods since Tap On Wood went on to glory 21 years ago and gave Hills his first, and so far only, winner of the Newmarket race.

Race Leader went to the front two furlongs out and, after a spirited tussle, was always just holding 6-5 favourite French Fellow, who was conceding 3lb, by three-quarters of a length. The pair are likely to reoppose in the Guineas; John Reid, rider of Race Leader, said: "He's a real little pro. They went a good strong gallop and whether or not he's good enough to win a Guineas that performance would certainly justify a run."

The bookmakers were unimpressed; Race Leader is still available at 40-1 and French Fellow at 66-1. But the Gone West colt put up some smart performances last year, notably when he chased home Giant's Causeway, one of the Ballydoyle big guns and second favourite for the Guineas after a winning seasonal debut in Ireland a week ago, in the Prix de la Salamandre last year. This afternoon at Leopardstown Aidan O'Brien will unleash more of his might, notably the Derby prospects Shakespeare and Bach.

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