Racing: Accordion Etoile rallies for a dazzling display

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The large pink star on his rider's livery is most appropriate for Accordion Etoile. It reflects his name and now also his celebrity as the young Irish horse shines ever more brightly in the National Hunt firmament.

The Champion Hurdle fourth of last spring registered his finest accomplishment yet here yesterday when he won the race which has become a gateway to great glory, the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase.

It was a triumph and a burden at the same time as Accordion Etoile must now establish that he belongs in the same breath as previous winners of the Grade 2 contest, the like of Best Mate and Azertyuiop. Certainly he will never fail for lack of bravery.

When he stared at the incline of the Cheltenham Hill after the final fence yesterday, the six-year-old would have seen the backside of Martin Pipe's Tamarinbleu in the middle distance. There was significant ground to make up and dwindling real estate in which to do it, but Accordion Etoile grimly established he was much more than a hurdling dilettant and forced his head in front on the line.

It was a raw and combative effort, one which would have been beyond him even 12 months ago.

"He's growing up now because he wouldn't have battled like that last year," Paul Nolan, the winning trainer said. "He's becoming more of a man. He's going to improve from this because my yard is under a little bit of a cloud. He's so good and his class got him over the line today."

Accordion Etoile's quality is packaged in a rather meagre container and it was an anomaly that the two main protagonists in the Independent were also the smallest.

Tamarinbleu made the sort of infant errors you might expect of a horse having his first run over fences as another Irish horse, Davenport Democrat, pulled the field along. Accordion Etoile was kept out wide to get a clear view of his obstacles, but that positioning had the effect of awakening the beast within him.

"He travelled a little bit better than I would have wished," John Cullen, the jockey, reported. "I would have preferred to have had him a little more asleep."

Tamarinbleu, prompted by Tony McCoy's urgings was at the front at the second last and appeared to have developed an insurmountable advantage. Accordion Etoile's stumble after the final fence seemed to be the definitive error of the contest but then came a recovery, a pursuit and, ultimately, capture of his quarry.

Accordion Etoile returned, draped in the county flag of Wexford, to a reception which suggested not all of Ireland's racing folk were at Navan to watch Moscow Flyer succumb.

Many of the same faces will be on the steppings again in four month's time when Accordion Etoile will attempt to justify current odds at 5-1 for the Irish Independent Arkle Chase.

Accordion Etoile's presence over fences is testament to the strength of the hurdling division in his native land. "When you look at the hurdlers that are around at home we had to make the switch to come over fences," Nolan said. "On the ground at home we're not going to beat Brave Inca, Harchibald, Hardy Eustace and those boys. We're delighted with the way our horse is so professional over his fences."

And Nolan is also delighted at the progress of his operation, which now numbers 60 horses. "We're creeping up and we can put a few more cornflakes on the table," he added.

Jonjo O'Neill does not have to worry about numbers at his Jackdaws Castle yard, which is the property of JP McManus and also stuffed with quality horses by jump racing's most prominent owner. Yesterday was another minor episode in pay-back time as O'Neill sent out Lingo, under McCoy, to win the Greatwood Hurdle in JP's green and gold colours.

Lingo, who had been off the track for 680 days, is now as low as 9-1 to repel the Irish battalion back here in the Champion Hurdle in March, though he will probably get as thunderous reception as any of the visitors. The Irish-bred gelding is also owned, trained and ridden by Irishmen.

Lingo remains a name to remember, especially by the bookmakers, who endured a rather taxing day. There was one bet alone of £100,000 each-way reported on Lingo and McManus was asked if he knew anything about the gamble. "A little bit," he replied.