Racing: Beef Or Salmon lifts gold standard

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The dream continued at Leopardstown yesterday when Beef Or Salmon continued his surreal floating through the chasing ranks with victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Irish blue riband.

The dream continued at Leopardstown yesterday when Beef Or Salmon continued his surreal floating through the chasing ranks with victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Irish blue riband.

The final sequence will now be played out in the purest version at Prestbury Park on 13 March, a date which promises to become one of the most significant in jumps racing.

Those who have backed Best Mate, the hot favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, will not be sleeping quite so well for the next five weeks or so. Just after the King George VI Chase, Henrietta Knight's jumper looked like a horse ready to bestride his sport for some time.

Two days later though Beef Or Salmon smacked the bottoms of far more experienced and decent horses in his native Ireland and rubber-stamped that performance back at Leopardstown yesterday. And it was not just that he won that was most compelling. It was what he did to those around him, pulling to the lead as others became gasping messes. If you can now get more than 5-1 for the Gold Cup it will be a chance find.

The Cheltenham Festival is a big enough event not to require a single match to sell it. Nevertheless, there is no greater appeal than a raw head-to-head, Ireland against England in the Gold Cup.

There is nothing quite like such a confrontation, our big lad against theirs, money thrown on the ground for a bareknuckle fight at least as much for the prestige as the financial rewards it will bring. Beef Or Salmon has provided us with this mouthwatering outlook.

The chestnut has grown up very quickly in the most celebrated company and the only vestige that he is technically still a novice came in the manner of his careful negotiation of the first sequence of fences yesterday. The even-money favourite spent a deal of time in the air.

Even then though it was transparent that Timmy Murphy believed he had a considerable ally beneath him. The jockey had enough faith in his mount to ride him out at the back, some way off a generous pace set by Harbour Pilot and Colonel Braxton.

As the race warmed up so too did Beef Or Salmon. Florida Pearl was left behind before the turn into the straight and, as the last fence loomed, there was only one horse not being punished to stay in the fight. Beef Or Salmon's nosebanded face was soon in front on the run-in when Murphy drew his whip to make sure. At the line he was four lengths to the good.

"Beef Or Salmon travelled as well as I wanted him to and there were no problems really," the jockey said, adding that the winner would be even more impressive on good going. "He was brilliant three out and came home very well."

The result was great vindication of Michael Hourigan's attacking policy of missing out a level and immediately putting Beef Or Salmon in with the best. There is now a growing belief that the gelding can become the first since Ireland's Captain Christy in 1974 to win the Gold Cup as a novice. Not many try, but there is also the precedent of Dorans Pride, the other great horse to have been through Hourigan's hands, who was third behind Mr Mulligan and Barton Bank in 1997.

The trainer was sufficiently emboldened yesterday to elevate Beef Or Salmon to the head of his affections. "I don't care what ground we have at Cheltenham it won't bother Beef Or Salmon."

Solerina, a stablemate of Limestone Lad, emphasised her Cheltenham prospects in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle by extending her winning sequence. But later on the Leopardstown card, another of Ireland's top Festival hopes, Le Coudray, fell at the final fence when challenging eventual winner Barrow Drive.

LEOPARDSTOWN (Hennessy Gold Cup, 3m): 1. BEEF OR SALMON (T J Murphy) evens fav; 2. Colonel Braxton 7-2; 3. Harbour Pilot 6-1. 5 ran. 4, nk. (M Hourigan). Tote: £1.80; £1.50, £1.70. Exacta: £3.40. CSF: £5.18. Non Runner: Be My Belle.

GOLD CUP (Cheltenham, 13 March, 3m2 1/ 2f) Ladbokes ante-post odds: 6-4 Best Mate, 4-1 (from 6-1) Beef Of Salmon, 8-1 (from 10-1) Hussard Collonges, 10-1 Commanche Court, 12-1 Behrajan, 16-1 Chives, First Gold, Keen Leader & Valley Henry, 25-1 others

Historic race revived

The first race ever run at a County Durham track is being revived. The Sedgefield Silver Plate of 2003, a three-mile and three-furlong steeplechase, will be run on 18 February for a first prize of £6,000.

When the race was initially run almost 273 years ago it was for a silver plate worth 10 guineas. Owners, trainers and jockeys will be pleased that their horses have to run only one race now. In the old days it was the best of three races at what was then known as "Seigefield".

The revival follows proof recently unearthed by the track's general manager, Jim Allen, that the first races at the course took place in 1730. Previously, it had been generally believed that the date was 1732.