Racing: Baracouda's supremacy shattered by the computer kid


Le roi est mort, vive le roi. The reign of the old marathon king Baracouda, the pride of France, finally, and unarguably, came to an end here yesterday at the hands of the dauphin, Inglis Drever. In the World Hurdle, the stayers' championship, the young horse took the old one in the air at the last and powered away up the hill for a three-length triumph, crowning a magnificent week for the trainer-owner-jockey triumvirate of Howard Johnson, Graham Wylie and Graham Lee.

Le roi est mort, vive le roi. The reign of the old marathon king Baracouda, the pride of France, finally, and unarguably, came to an end here yesterday at the hands of the dauphin, Inglis Drever. In the World Hurdle, the stayers' championship, the young horse took the old one in the air at the last and powered away up the hill for a three-length triumph, crowning a magnificent week for the trainer-owner-jockey triumvirate of Howard Johnson, Graham Wylie and Graham Lee.

The cattleman and the computer kid, both Geordies, may be unlikely comrades-in-arms, but they are proving mighty effective. It was the third victory of the meeting for Johnson, who is deaf in one ear as a result of being kicked by a recalcitrant cow and still has 600 bovines on his 1,000-acre White Leas Farm in Co Durham, and Wylie, who founded the Sage software business while at Newcastle university and has been valued at £600m.

Neither man could quite believe their Festival fortune. "Not bad for an old cattle farmer," said Johnson, whose sole success at the holy of holies before this year had been in a handicap in 1993. "You come to a place like this only with hopes, no expectations." Wylie has been involved with horses for only four years. "I could never have dreamed of this," he said. "I was actually very calm until the last hurdle, then I was like a yo-yo. Perhaps I am surprised to have had such success so early in my investment, but then perhaps I shouldn't be. Such a lot of work, dedication and professionalism goes into the horses behind the scenes. All I have to do is jump up and down."

The extraordinary thing is that Inglis Drever, named after a Scots heraldic artist, was really only a stand-in for his injured stablemate Royal Rosa. And what a supersub he proved, even if it was not obvious in the early stages as Baracouda's trailblazer Knife Edge, and then Westender, took the field of 12 along at a steaming gallop.

Lee had to roust his mount, a 5-1 shot, early doors, and was still issuing reminders halfway through the three miles, but then the gelding's overdrive kicked in. "They'd gone a two-mile pace," said Lee, "and I was not comfortable. He wasn't travelling great, and he wasn't jumping great. I had to give him two belts just to make him realise he was racing."

However, plans A, B and C had been devised to cope with any eventuality. It was B - for Baracouda - that was adopted. "I knew a horse like him would get me to where I wanted to be in the race," added Lee, "so I got to his tail by three out, and stayed there. And when he got into top gear down the hill he didn't half take off. But he took me with him."

At the last hurdle, Baracouda is usually poised arrogantly and composedly, waiting to pounce. This time, the French-trained 10-year-old came to it under maximum pressure from Tony McCoy. The whites of his eyes were showing (literally and figuratively; he has particularly prominent ones) and Inglis Drever delivered the coup de grâce with power and elegance as he flowed effortlessly over the obstacle and landed running. On the stretch to the line the bay's past tendency to veer left-handed was not apparent. "He was going that fast he didn't have time even to think about it," said Lee.

"He may be a bit of a cool dude, a bit inclined to chill out, but he has a heart as big as the winners' enclosure and once he hit the front, nothing was going to get him back." Not even Baracouda. But the great horse, the 6-5 favourite, went down with the utmost honour and was given his due accord as he preceded the winner into the hallowed circle he has graced so nobly in the past. Rule Supreme, diverted to the hurdle race from today's Gold Cup, battled on for third place, three-quarters of a length behind Baracouda, with Westender fourth.

At the start of the week, Johnson thought that Inglis Drever was the yard's best chance of a winner, so given that two supposed lesser lights, Arcalis and No Refuge, also ridden by Lee, went in, it should have been some hint. "We are 1,000 feet above sea level and he's used to running up hills," Johnson said.

The coming of Wylie has transformed life at Johnson's empire. The businessman has invested £4m in bloodstock and now has 89 horses. New stabling for them is going up as fast as it can be built. "I think I'll have to call time on the cows," said Johnson. "It's ridiculous; I've been a hands-on stockman all my life and I should be winding down. But Graham has got Flat horses now too, and though I was reluctant, my wife Sue has been on his side. She said, 'Go for it. I like to wear nice hats'."

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