Horses for courses is a well-ridden old saw, but such truisms become so because they are. There is little question that some tracks particularly suit some animals; witness Mister McGoldrick and Wetherby. Yesterday, the eight-year-old won his sixth race there on his seventh visit, reaching a career high with an 11-length success in the Castleford Chase. Whether he would have won the £29,000 Grade Two two-miler had not Well Chief come down four out when closing on the leaders is a moot point, but it was the local lad - he is trained less than 20 miles away by Sue Smith - who coped with the West Yorkshire track's demands and the odds-on favourite did not.
Wetherby, by common consent, has the stiffest fences in Britain after those on Aintree's Grand National circuit. Mister McGoldrick has now jumped 39 of them faultlessly, plus 37 hurdles on a track with long, galloping straights linked by sharp, almost right-angled left-handed bends. Turning off the last of them he looked under pressure and had Dominic Elsworth had wing mirrors, he would have seen Timmy Murphy and Well Chief looming large in them.
But the first fence in the straight, the final open ditch, was the little chestnut's downfall. His departure left Mister McGoldrick in the lead with the Paul Nicholls stablemates Kadarann, the winner 12 months ago, and Armaturk trailing in his muddy wake. "I thought I was beaten turning in," said Elsworth, who has ridden Richard Longley's gelding to all six Wetherby wins, "but he just kept going. It's his favourite track."
Conversely, Mister McGoldrick has yet to bond with Cheltenham, where he has failed behind Well Chief and Armaturk, and is not a certain runner in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, for which he remains an outsider, at rates from 20-1 upwards.
Well Chief's undoing was that he just failed to get high enough at the fateful fence and, hard though he scrabbled, he could not get his front legs out of the mud in time to prevent gravity doing its stuff. It was a first visit to Wetherby by his trainer, Martin Pipe, who said: "He seems fine. I was just glad to see him get up."
The six-year-old's position as third favourite for the crown at Cheltenham - where he, unlike Mister McGoldrick, does shine - was largely unaffected by this mishap. Bookmakers take the view that he, Azertyuiop and Moscow Flyer are the only ones to be seriously considered.
If Murphy was the losing cat at Wetherby, Tony McCoy played the part of the playful mouse at Exeter, where he linked up with the old firm, Pipe and Well Chief's owner David Johnson, to notch a double. Most significant was Control Man in a novices' chase. The former smart handicap hurdler gained compensation for his second-fence fall in the Feltham Chase on Boxing Day, outslogging the opposition, headed by well-regarded Alexanderthegreat from the Nicholls stable, in testing conditions under a typical gun-to-the-head McCoy ride from the front.
The nine-times champion, who is 49 winners in front of Murphy (141-92) in the race for the jockeys' title, has elected not to appeal against a seven-day ban for careless riding at Cheltenham on Saturday. He will be out of action on 12-15 and 17-19 January, thus missing weekend cards at Kempton and Warwick.
The next serious money to be earned by Messrs Pipe and Nicholls in their tussle for the trainers' championship - Pipe is just over £77,000 in front of his rival - will be on Saturday at Sandown, scene of the valuable Ladbroke Hurdle and the prestigious Tolworth Hurdle.
In the former, the Nicholls-trained Monte Cinto is favourite with the sponsors, but among 33 entries are eight from Nicholashayne, including Well Chief. The Grade One novices' event, won by luminaries such as Thisthatandtother, Monsignor, Behrajan, French Holly and Desert Orchid, has attracted 16, including a pair who have won at the highest level, Wild Passion (Noel Meade) and Phar Bleu (Georgina Browne), plus eight-time winner Marcel (Pipe) and the only horse to have beaten him in this country, Astronomic (Howard Johnson).Reuse content