Racing: Best Mate's brilliant victory caps a festive feast for Knight

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The Independent Online

Best Mate wrapped up an exceedingly merry Christmas for Henrietta Knight here in Dublin yesterday with a brilliant display to win the Ericsson Chase.

Best Mate wrapped up an exceedingly merry Christmas for Henrietta Knight here in Dublin yesterday with a brilliant display to win the Ericsson Chase.

The dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner was faultless at his fences and showed astonishing acceleration in the final stages to land the second big prize in three days for Knight, whose Edredon Bleu won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. The Oxfordshire trainer's decision to bypass Kempton with Best Mate brought her considerable criticism, but everything that happened yesterday proved itself to be a vindication - not to mention a great relief.

"The last month has been hell," she said. "I wondered why he was beaten at Huntingdon. Was it the ground? Is he as good as he was? I have never been as fearful as I was coming here today."

In the event there was no need for any trepidation whatsoever. Billed as a showdown between the 8-11 favourite and the leading Irish hope, Beef Or Salmon, the grandstand finish between the pair failed to materialise. Timmy Murphy was soon in trouble on Beef Or Salmon, who stuck on bravely enough to finish third without ever getting in a blow on the winner.

In contrast, Jim Culloty enjoyed a dream ride on Best Mate, who always travelled sweetly just behind the fast pace set by Batman Senora and Colonel Braxton. The eight-year-old quickened clear around the home turn and the only thing that stood between him and success was the final fence. But with a flying leap he put it beyond doubt and he strode away up the run-in to beat the staying-on Le Coudray by nine lengths, with Beef Or Salmon a further four lengths back.

"He jumped well, or so everybody tells me," said Knight, who chose once again not to watch the race but to listen to the commentary from the safety of the car park. "He is brilliant, just a dream. He is the best there is today. I have never compared him to Arkle, but there isn't a better horse alive."

Knight then went on to reveal her plans for the rest of Best Mate's season and declared that she will not be influenced by the public clamour to see this great champion.

"He won't run again until the Gold Cup. There is nothing suitable for him and I am not going to change the plan now. I am absolutely thrilled by the reception he has got here today. He is an Irish horse, born in Ireland, and to hear so many people cheering for him here has made me quite tearful."

Best Mate is now as short as 4-5 for the Gold Cup in March.

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