Racing: Azertyuiop thrills with word perfect performance

Independent Newspaper Novice Chase: Faultless display of jumping and a surge of pace promise an exciting future for 16-length winner
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The Independent Online

Wherever you look for Azertyuiop you find him at the peak. On the top line of lettering on the French keyboard, at the head of the Arkle Trophy betting for the Cheltenham Festival next March and, after the thrilling evidence here at Prestbury Park yesterday, the clear leader on the list of the most promising jumping horses in these islands.

Wherever you look for Azertyuiop you find him at the peak. On the top line of lettering on the French keyboard, at the head of the Arkle Trophy betting for the Cheltenham Festival next March and, after the thrilling evidence here at Prestbury Park yesterday, the clear leader on the list of the most promising jumping horses in these islands.

Azertyuiop did more than just win the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase yesterday. He used the Grade Two event as a showcase for what the perfect National Horse should display. He travelled well, he jumped faultlessly and, even after his race was won, he threw in a fleet turn of foot. There looks, at this stage, nothing to beat him.

Not often do you witness the bottled excitement his connections struggled to contain yesterday. The fragility of the jumping horse is such that Paul Nicholls, Azertyuiop's trainer, and owner John Hales, the man who once had One Man, now harbour as much trepidation as expectancy about the athletic five-year-old.

Ruby Walsh, the Irish jockey, can afford to be a little more dispassionate but even he understands the pleasant burden that has been thrust upon him. "We have to see at the Festival don't we," he said. "But this looks the one."

Azertyuiop looked the outstanding contestant as the field embarked on the Independent, a tall lithe figure who was at first resentful at an apparently indolent pace set by Tony McCoy on Martin Pipe's Golden Alpha. The leader was not coasting, however, a fact witnessed by the speed at which the rest of the six-strong field first struggled and then dropped out of contention.

By the time they set off down the far side in the direction of Cleeve Hill it had already become a match. Golden Alpha was bowling along, his ears pricked, with Azertyuiop in easy pursuit.

At the top of the hill, McCoy looked over his shoulder and would not have liked the sight. Azertyuiop was by now locked closely into his slipstream. He was the only danger. But it was clear and present.

On the descent to the straight the champion jockey made a final desperate effort to put ground between Golden Alpha and his stalker. The last card had been played and it was about to be trumped.

Walsh became active in the saddle for the first time in the race between the final two obstacles. The gears clicked and an awesome leap at the last sealed victory. The margin was emphasised further and further up the run-in until Azertyuiop passed the line 16 lengths to the good. He is now 6-1 for the Arkle next spring and the greatest threats to future success are not animal forms but the twin devils of injury and illness.

"That was all we could have wanted," Nicholls said. "He got a good lead, they went a good gallop, he jumped well and Ruby said that when he gave him a crack going to the last away he went up the hill. He's an exciting horse.

"I would like to think that he could make up into a top class two-mile chaser in time and he certainly has the size and scope for that. He is still only a five-year-old and Ruby said he would have been even better on better ground."

Walsh added: "He seems very good. He's quick, he jumps and he gets two miles really well. He knows where he is at, he's A1."

John Hales too is feverish about Azertyuiop, but he does not want the fervour to run as quickly as his mercurial property. Hales had the same feeling about One Man, whose death at Aintree he still considers the worst day of his life.

But even the owner could not ground all his emotions. "Guillaume Macaire [the French trainer from whom Azertyuiop was purchased for a six-figure sum] always insisted this was a genuine three-miler," he said. "That's his breeding. Now if he can jump like that and go at that speed over two miles then we might have some horse."

The next episode comes in either Sandown's Henry VIII Novice Chase or a £100,000 contest at Leopardstown. Then it will be a rest, followed probably by a tune-up at Warwick and the ultimate destiny of the Festival.

The first day of racing's championships is also likely to feature another impressive winner from yesterday, Rooster Booster, who is now second favourite for the Champion Hurdle after a nonchalant transportation of top weight in a valuable Listed handicap hurdle.

"There does not seem to be an outstanding hurdler around at the moment, so though he will be nine by the time the Champion Hurdle comes around we shall have to start thinking about it," Philip Hobbs, the winning trainer, said. "The obvious first step would be the Bula Hurdle here at the next meeting."

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