Racing: Carberry confidence revives Beef Or Salmon

Just as the careless and the carefree are divided by a bare syllable, so an abyss divides two riders who behaved in identical fashion on consecutive afternoons here. Yesterday Paul Carberry stopped riding Beef Or Salmon at precisely the same point as Roger Loughran on Central House in the big race the previous afternoon, half-way up the run-in. But where Loughran perpetrated one of the immortal sporting cock-ups, Carberry was simply confirming himself the cocksure, swaggering master of their profession.

If the collective image of Irish jump jockeys had suffered from Loughran's harrowing blunder - he began tragi-comic celebrations after passing some phantom winning post - then Carberry was the ideal man to restore perspectives. Certainly the success of Beef Or Salmon in the Lexus Chase ensured that this has been a terrific meeting for Carberry, even before he teams up with the the Champion Hurdle favourite, Harchibald, on today's card.

The fact is that the overall standard of riding over jumps has never been better. Indeed, parochial assumptions that Tony McCoy is the best in history do not stand up especially well even to his own generation. And while Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty are no less accomplished, none of them quite match the impudent tint of genius in Carberry.

To dwell on his role yesterday might seem an injustice to a horse whose own merits had already secured this prize twice, and qualified him to start at odds-on against four rivals this time. But Beef Or Salmon's frailties are at least as familiar, and his pragmatic trainer, Michael Hourigan, knows that Carberry contributes hugely to his confidence.

Here the horse tackled his fences with the sort of gusto he showed winning the 2002 running as a novice, and he duly remained suffused with energy as he took over on the long run to the final fence. By the time he reached the site of Loughran's doom he was in such command that Carberry was able to ease him to a walk, and still maintain a four-length advantage over War Of Attrition.

"That's the best he has jumped since his fall at Cheltenham," Hourigan said, referring to the third-fence fall that punished his audacity in going for the Gold Cup as a novice. Hourigan traces the physical problems that have inhibited the fulfilment of Beef Or Salmon to that day, but his back has evidently required far less physiotherapy this season. "He made only one mistake today and Paul blamed himself for that," Hourigan said. "Otherwise he said that the horse had come up in his hands from the very first fence."

Whether Beef Or Salmon will ever get his lines right in the Gold Cup is another story. Hourigan's yard was hopelessly out of form when he was pulled up last season, and there was a hint of wistfulness in an observation he made as a cold sun shrank behind the Wicklow Hills. "Often the best horse in the race doesn't win the Gold Cup," he said. "But certainly he has the potential to do so."

Ladbrokes cut Beef Or Salmon from 10-1 to share 7-1 second favouritism behind Kicking King (7-4) with Kingscliff, the horse who beat them both at Haydock last month, but then sank without trace at Sandown on Boxing Day. In the meantime Beef Or Salmon will be back here for the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup in February, where another improved show can be expected from Hedgehunter.

The runaway Grand National winner had shown little when reappearing over hurdles, but he jumped buoyantly in the lead here, and persevered quietly once headed for a respectable fourth. Willie Mullins indicated he would go straight to Aintree if failing to earn a crack at the Gold Cup with his Hennessy performance, but there is no question that he retains every right to do just that. The huge prices available against him do scant justice to the improvement that seems guaranteed as he approaches the spring.

Carberry had already won a Grade One prize on Rosaker, picking up the pieces after Emotional Moment and Solerina softened each other up with a bare-knuckle duel for the Christmas Hurdle from half-way down the back straight. Solerina, unproven over three miles, showed all her usual pluck in retrieving the lead, but she was running on empty and faded into fourth.

Noel Meade was astonished by Rosaker's success after long absence, but he has enjoyed that kind of week. "When you're in luck your pigs will fly," he said. Meade saddled three winners the previous day - including an authentic Cheltenham novice in Sweet Wake - and today runs Harchibald in the Festival Hurdle. This is the horse that Carberry was born to ride, and there is not much higher praise than that.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Enjoy The Buzz

(Lingfield 3.05)

NB: Lady Hopeful

(Lingfield 3.40)