Racing: Cash and Brave Inca start Irish celebrations

It was a day for Festival virgins to become men. And the upswelling emotion involved in the realisation of that glorious first victory in this theatre of dreams was variously expressed. Colm Murphy, trainer of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero Brave Inca, was swept shoulder-high into the winner's circle by the gelding's near-hysterical syndicate of owners to a deafening rendering of the ubiquitous Irish "ole-ole-ole-ole" anthem.

It was a day for Festival virgins to become men. And the upswelling emotion involved in the realisation of that glorious first victory in this theatre of dreams was variously expressed. Colm Murphy, trainer of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero Brave Inca, was swept shoulder-high into the winner's circle by the gelding's near-hysterical syndicate of owners to a deafening rendering of the ubiquitous Irish "ole-ole-ole-ole" anthem.

But no less telling was Alan King's reaction as he gazed at Fork Lightning standing panting in the hallowed place after the National Hunt Handicap Chase. He simply stood still in the sunshine as the cheers rolled over him, took a deep breath and raised his eyes skywards in silent thanks. "I don't think it's quite sunk in yet," he said a few minutes later, "but we'll probably get pissed at home later. If we get home."

Brave Inca maintained Ireland's dominance of the meeting's opening heat with a neck victory under Barry Cash after a spine-tingling battle with compatriot War Of Attrition from the penultimate flight. The six-year-old was Murphy's first runner here, and his owners' first horse, but the Co Wexford trainer has had a decent grounding; he served time with Aidan O'Brien and Charlie Swan. "You hope for this," he said, "but you can't dare dream you'll do it."

But time and experience do not seem to dim the thrill of success up the famous hill. Cash's reaction at his first win - to stand high in the irons with whip-hand raised higher - was exactly the same as Tony McCoy's at his 15th, Well Chief in the other Grade One novices' feature, the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy.

Well Chief, runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle 12 months ago, was running in only his second chase. The chestnut took advantage of his 4lb five-year-old's allowance to get the better of Irish raider Kicking King by a length in a driving finish after a sustained duel, despite a slight fluff at the last, and afterwards his trainer, Martin Pipe, gave due credit to one of his key backroom boys, Jonothan Lower. "He does all the schooling at home," Pipe said, "and said from the moment that Well Chief first jumped a hurdle that chasing would be his game."

Paul Nicholls's second string, Le Duc, took third place, some consolation for the fall of stablemate Thisthatandtother at the second obstacle.

Pipe took his Festival haul to 32 when the former high-class performer Maximize, like Well Chief in David Johnson's colours, snatched victory from Merchants Friend in the dying strides of the amateurs' contest, the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup. It was heartbreak, though, for the runner-up, who had blazed a courageous trail and was 15 lengths clear at the last. Maximize, a Henrietta Knight cast-off, was ridden by a 19-year-old agricultural student, Darren Edwards.

It was Edwards' first ride for Pipe and, in a neat twist, it was his father, the Exmoor-based trainer, Gordon, who gave McCoy his first British winner, Chickabiddy, 10 years ago. Maximize started at 40-1 to give the Nicholashayne maestro his second successive long-priced winner of the race, after Royal Predica (33-1) last year.

JP McManus took the finale, but with 50-1-shot Creon, forced home by Timmy Murphy, rather than gambled-on 4-1 favourite Keepatem. "I would not have been tempted by 500-1," said the Irishman of the quirky Jonjo O'Neill-trained winner.

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