Racing: Chief threatens Flyer's domination

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The Independent Online

One day after Well Chief made out such an impressive claim for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Moscow Flyer responded with a victory at Punchestown that proved his wellbeing, but not much more.

One day after Well Chief made out such an impressive claim for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Moscow Flyer responded with a victory at Punchestown that proved his wellbeing, but not much more.

In truth, it would have been nearly impossible for Moscow Flyer to have enhanced his reputation or his official rating as the best steeeplechaser in these islands against vastly inferior opponents, but his display yesterday was no better than workmanlike. He now shares favouritism for Cheltenham with the two he beat convincingly in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, Well Chief and Azertyuiop, the reigning champion.

Sent off the 2-11 favourite for the Tied Cottage Chase yesterday, Jessica Harrington's gelding had to make all of the running under Barry Geraghty and was foot-perfect at almost all of his fences on his way to a two and a half length success.

"I'm delighted with the way he jumped, it was absolutely brilliant," said Harrington. "He had no company, and Barry says that when he makes the running he will never win far and only does as much as he has to. It's only when he gets into a really good, fast-run race that he shows his true mettle.

"I was more nervous today than before the Tingle Creek, but it's now all systems go for Cheltenham."

Ladbrokes cannot decide which of the big three to side with for the Champion, and quote Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop and Well Chief as 2-1 co-favourites. "We can't split them and we're going to let punters tells us who should be clear favourite," said the firm's Balthazar Fabricius. "We thought Well Chief's performance was simply outstanding and he deserves to share joint favouritism with the previous winners."

Totesport cut Well Chief to 5-2 from 11-4, with their spokesman, Damian Walker, saying: "Moscow Flyer probably idled in front, but there's no doubt Well Chief was the more impressive of the two weekend winners and we have cut his price accordingly. Steel Band ran a blinder to finish second to Moscow Flyer and is 25-1 from 40-1 for the Arkle Chase."

Coral were more impressed with the performance, and Moscow Flyer remains their 2-1 second favourite behind Azertyuiop. The firm's Simon Clare said: "Small fields never bring out the best in Moscow Flyer so he deserves to maintain his position in the market.

"It seems incredible that despite Best Mate going for a fourth Gold Cup win, many will view the clash between Azertyuiop, Moscow Flyer and Well Chief as the star attraction of this year's Festival."

Earlier on the Punchestown card, Justified spread-eagled a competitive field in a novices' event to stake his claim for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Coral hacked his odds to 8-1 from 25-1 for the contest which opens the meeting on 15 March.

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