Racing: Best Mate reasserts supremacy with a stunning victory

It was as if the rattle at the points had never been. Best Mate put his quest for a third Gold Cup back on the smoothest of tracks at Leopardstown yesterday with a simply majestic annihilation of Ireland's cream in the Ericsson Chase.

It was as if the rattle at the points had never been. Best Mate put his quest for a third Gold Cup back on the smoothest of tracks at Leopardstown yesterday with a simply majestic annihilation of Ireland's cream in the Ericsson Chase.

On a cold, bright afternoon there was hint of storm neither in the air nor on the track for, despite the hopes of the massed faithful in the stands that the local boy Beef Or Salmon could provide an effective defence of the Grade 1 prize, no dour struggle, nor even a slight one, materialised. Best Mate glided, danced and flowed round the Co Dublin track and Jim Culloty needed only to disengage cruise control and give his partner's throttle a nudge for the eight-year-old to purr serenely clear and win by nine lengths, easing down.

He was a limo among bangers, except his rivals were hardly fit for the scrapheap. Runner-up Le Coudray, a former top-class staying hurdler, was a high-class novice chaser last term and Beef Or Salmon, four lengths third, won this three-mile contest 12 months previously and had been regarded as a serious contender for Best Mate's Cheltenham crown. The dual winner is now a best 5-4 with Ladbrokes, the only firm to offer better than evens, for his Festival hat-trick.

The most relieved person at Leopardstown was Best Mate's trainer Henrietta Knight, for even she had begun to succumb to nagging doubts about her charge's progress after his defeat in the slippery mud at Huntingdon five weeks ago. And his late switch from Friday's King George VI Chase (in which stablemate Edredon Bleu proved such an effective deputy) at Kempton to Ireland in search of optimum going ruffled a few feathers, both public and professional.

"The last month has been hell," she admitted. "I really wasn't entirely sure why he was beaten at Huntingdon. Was it the ground? Or was it because he was not as good as he was? It was a difficult decision to come here; I have never been so fearful coming to a race meeting and I just can't explain the pressure. But we stuck to our guns and got the result and I could not be happier. He was brilliant, or so I'm told."

As usual, Knight refused the extra stress of watching her darling perform, instead listening to the race commentary from the safety and isolation of the car park. "I'm told he jumped brilliantly," she added. "He's just a dream. I've never myself put him up with Arkle, but he's the best there is today. The best horse alive."

He certainly looked it yesterday. In the preliminaries his bay hide had an almost summer-like bloom, the steel-drum dapples on his powerful neck standing out thrillingly in the winter light. Going to post his action had a fluidity that spoke of approval of what he felt underfoot. "The one thing I was not worried about was the ground," said Knight. "I have had Franny Woods, the ex-jockey, walk the course for me every day for the past two weeks and he had been telling me it was fine. Even when it rained on Boxing Day I wasn't that concerned. When I walked the course myself this morning I couldn't have been more pleased. It was on the easy side of good, absolutely ideal for him."

Culloty shadowed the brisk pace set by Batman Senora and Colonel Braxton, with Timmy Murphy on Beef Or Salmon close enough if good enough, which he was not. The Irish pretender did not help his cause with an error four out but it made, in the end, no real difference to the result.

Culloty asked Best Mate, whose jumping had been faultless, to quicken past Colonel Braxton after the penultimate obstacle and, without apparent effort, he put daylight between himself and those toiling behind. A springheeled, showboating leap at the last prompted the huge cheer that even a partisan crowd will accord a true champion.

But then, Irish-bred Best Mate is almost one of their own anyway. "I am absolutely thrilled by the reception was given," said Knight, "To hear so many people cheering for him here has made me quite tearful."

The victory, after that of Edredon Bleu at Kempton, was absolute vindication of Knight's deployment of her troops and Best Mate will not be sent from barracks again until the Gold Cup itself. Light duties are the norm at West Lockinge and as Edredon Bleu did win a King George at the age of 11 perhaps the modus operandi should not be crabbed.

"I have had a lot of criticism for not running him enough," she added, "but I would love Matey to still be as good when he is rising 12. The way to do that is to protect them and the way to protect them is not to over-run them."

The focus at Leopardstown today is on Champion Hurdle favourite Rhinestone Cowboy, who takes on six high-class rivals in the December Festival Hurdle. In Britain, the Grade 1 feature is the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, for which Cornish Rebel, Best Mate's six-year-old brother, is strongly fancied. Perhaps the name of another young sibling, who won at Limerick yesterday, sums up the progress of the clan. Inexorable.

ERICSSON CHASE: 1. BEST MATE (J Culloty) 8-11 fav; 2. Le Coudray 14-1; 3. Beef Or Salmon 2-1. 8 ran. 9. (Miss H Knight). Tote: 1.90; 1.30, 1.70, 1.60. Exacta: 11.00. CSF: 13.21. NR: Harbour Pilot.

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there