Racing: Baracouda and Doumen ground Swan's swoop at title

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The Independent Online

Ordinarily, with Charlie Swan and Thierry Doumen locked in a battle to the finish, there is not much doubt where your hard-earned would be. The streetwise, stylish multiple Irish champion versus the young Frenchman, not yet four years a pro? No contest. Except, of course, when Baracouda is the equine half of the Gallic equation.

The seven-year-old is not only a supremely talented athlete – yesterday's Stayers' Hurdle was his ninth consecutive victory – but he and Doumen are almost a centaur. It has been wisely said that there is no secret so close as between rider and horse and this pair's neck defeat of Swan and Bannow Bay was visible proof.

In his races Baracouda often gives the impression of not doing much at all. At home in Chantilly he is, by the admission of trainer François Doumen, father of the jockey, a plain and scruffy horse. Certainly, he would not be chosen by Stubbs as a subject; a dullish bay, with a smudged white stripe on his face and a slightly mad-looking white-ringed right eye. But, in the words of another old equestrian saw, " 'andsome is wot 'andsome does".

Baracouda appeared asleep at the back of the field for three-quarters of the three-mile marathon championship and it was only coming down the hill that the familiar green and gold JP McManus colours began to appear on the premises. "He is not a horse, he is something else," said Doumen fils. "He is so intelligent. He is quite content not to be involved but you have to trust him because when you put him behind and switch him off he feels like a dead horse. But when you put him on the bridle he is brilliant. He gives you all his talent."

Staying hurdlers are very much the poor relations at the glamour end of the business and so Baracouda will probably never receive the plaudits of a Best Mate or a Flagship Uberalles. But it should not be forgotten that at Ascot last November this gifted horse had Hors La Loi III trailing nine lengths in his wake. "I never tire of riding him," added Doumen, "we know each other so well."

Tony McCoy's bond with Valiramix was much briefer, but no less deep, and the haunted champion's first Festival victory on Royal Auclair in the Cathcart Cup proved scant consolation for the loss of the grey on Tuesday. After five second places, McCoy's will, or need, to win on Royal Auclair was apparent in every strained sinew as he dared and drove the callow five-year-old, the 2-1 favourite, at every fence in the lead. But, although the glimmer of a smile was there on his grey, hurting face as he acknowledged the ovation given him by the faithful round the winner's circle, no demons were laid.

"It doesn't bring Valiramix back," he said. "You get a horse like him only once in a blue moon and if I had won another race and been champion of the meeting, it would still not have been in any way a good week."

Until yesterday every race at the meeting had been won by a different jockey. Charlie Swan was the first to a brace on 16-1 shot Scolardy in the opening Triumph Hurdle; the Willie Mullins-trained four-year-old shot 11 lengths clear of his compatriot Newhall and is now quoted at 25-1 to wrest away Hors La Loi's Champion Hurdle crown 12 months hence.

But it was Richard Johnson who took the week's honours with victory on the consistent grey Rooster Booster in the finale, the County Hurdle. Although both he and Swan scored two wins and two seconds, Johnson nicked the title with two thirds to Swan's one.