Racing: Carberry keeps Beef on victory roll

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His name is all equivocation and it does not end there. On the one hand, Beef Or Salmon is clearly one of the most talented steeplechasers of recent years. His rampant success in the Hennessy Gold Cup here yesterday was the seventh of his career at grade one level. At the same time, he could not shed the air of vulnerability that has settled upon him in three consecutive failures at Cheltenham - making such a clumsy error at the fifth last here that very few jockeys other than Paul Carberry would have kept their seat.

In fairness, it is also true that few horses would have recovered so insouciantly. Beef Or Salmon was soon back on the bridle and confidently closing down his only feasible rival, Hedgehunter. In the end he won every bit as easily as at the Christmas meeting here, walking over the line a dozen lengths clear.

His trainer, Michael Hourigan, finds it hard not to be affronted when he reads about the painful lack of quality in the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup next month. And it is true that the horse seems to move with greater freedom nowadays than in the past, when inhibited by various physical problems. Yet the suspicion persists that he is too ponderous a jumper ever to reach full throttle over the undulations of Cheltenham. The sponsors kept Beef Or Salmon on 5-1, behind Monkerhostin - likely to go straight to the Festival after the abandonment of Newbury on Saturday - on 9-2.

"Paul said his jumping was too good today, for a change, and that the horse just felt able to take a chance at that fence," Hourigan said. "He was giving them plenty of height, plenty of scope. He's got all the class in the world, so much that he can afford to make that blip. If I can get him there in the health he is in now, he must have every chance at Cheltenham."

Carberry himself said that the horse had been "clever enough not to fall", but that is hardly the first endorsement you would seek for a Gold Cup horse. It is also likely that Hedgehunter is nowhere near the horse he was at Aintree last year. He was really staggering on the run-in, and while Willie Mullins professed himself satisfied, he looked very disappointed.

He had been much happier with Mister Hight, who was always travelling strongly in the Cashmans Juvenile Hurdle. The horse did seem distracted jumping among horses as he made ground three out, landing too steeply, and also hit the last. He will have to be more attentive among heavy traffic in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, for which he is now down to 4-1 favourite from 7-1 with Coral.

Mullins also produced an excellent candidate for the SunAlliance Chase in Our Ben, who finished strongly for third in the P.J. Moriarty Novice Chase, behind The Railway Man. The winner was a revelation and looks very well qualified for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy, though that did not seem to be the way his trainer was thinking. This race was staged over two miles and five furlongs and Arthur Moore argued that The Railway Man might be too quick for the SunAlliance, over three, but not quick enough for the Arkle, over two. He is perhaps only half right, but promised to sleep on it.

As for Our Ben, Mullins said: "I was disappointed that he put in a couple of slow jumps just as the pace was hotting up, but very pleased with the way he came home. The extra distance at Cheltenham will suit him well, and better ground too." Our Ben is 7-1 with Ladbrokes, who prefer only Darkness on 5-1.

No trainer in Ireland has a stronger team of novice hurdlers than Noel Meade, who presented Carberry with a dilemma when Mr Nosie extended his unbeaten record in the Deloitte Hurdle. Meade also intends to run Nicanor, so impressive here a fortnight previously, in the SunAlliance Hurdle and will leave the choice to their jockey.

Mr Nosie lost his position on the bend before leading approaching the last flight. Having done so, his mind started wandering: he belted the hurdle and did not offer a single ounce of superfluous effort on the run-in. "He did the funniest thing during the week," Meade reflected. "Something he'd hardly ever done before - he worked real well. It was a bit frightening. He's very lazy, but very tough as well."

LEOPARDSTOWN (HENNESSY GOLD CUP): 3.55 1. BEEF OR SALMON (P Car-berry) 2-5 fav; 2. Hedgehunter 100-30; 3. Native Upmanship 50-1. 7 ran. 12, 7. (M Hourigan). Tote: £1.50; £1.30, £1.80. Exacta: £2.10. Non Runner: Rince Ri.

Chris McGrath

Nap: De Blanc (Plumpton 3.00)

NB: Prince Of Gold

(Wolverhampton 1.50)

Independent tipsters score double top

Chris McGrath, The Independent's racing correspondent, went to the top of the Racing Post Naps Competition after Fair Question won at Ayr on Saturday. The 12-1 winner lifted the level-stakes profit for the 2005-2006 jumps season to £23.13. The naps table includes 51 national and regional newspapers.

Hyperion made it a double for Independent tipsters by leading the Racing Post's National Press Challenge, which tracks selections for all races.