Racing: Death of old valiants overshadows towering exploits of jumping élite

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It was one of the great Saturdays of the National Hunt season, a day when we were radiantly and uncomfortably reminded about the compelling nature of the winter game. There were glorious winners, glorious losers and blackness, the death of two of two of the sport's more seasoned campaigners.

It was one of the great Saturdays of the National Hunt season, a day when we were radiantly and uncomfortably reminded about the compelling nature of the winter game. There were glorious winners, glorious losers and blackness, the death of two of two of the sport's more seasoned campaigners.

It may be hard to acknowledge, but the loss of Take Control and Behrajan could be part of the rubbernecking appeal of jumps racing. You just do not know if they are coming back. If you thought about this too much, about the gladiatorial concept, the whole shooting match might be too difficult to justify.

It is better to move on to nobler considerations and discuss the bravery that jockeys, who know the score, and the horses, who do not, lay before us. It may just, in fact, be bald instinct, but that does not matter. It is the thrill of the chases which counts.

Tradition dictates that the deceased usually get a sign-off mention, but it must come higher up on this occasion because of the quite murderous nature of the Tote Classic Chase at Warwick. This was an event which put paid to three beasts which had completed National courses. Even Bindaree, the 2002 Grand National winner, was toppled, at the last. He, at least, got up.

Take Control, the Scottish National winner of the same year, perished early on. A horse who was also accomplished enough to finish third in the Hennessy Gold Cup, Martin Pipe's gelding was prone to the odd jumping error. His final one came in his 35th jump race.

Behrajan's death leaves a hole, a bloody big hole emotionally and physically at Henry Daly's yard. The big horse had already completed an Aintree National and it was hard to imagine him dying out there. But, two out at Warwick, he did.

Behrajan was a freakish horse, one who was bred to win an Arc, but one which travelled about as fast as one. He was a big, hairy thing and when you stood at the blowy apex of the Downton Hall gallops with Daly he could be rather rude about this great lump that came labouring up the all-weather. He was, though, only verbally hating the one he loved.

Despite his enormous proportions there was something vulnerable about Behrajan. Maybe it was the way his limbs appeared to act independently of each other, or the impression that he was exhausting himself each time he ran. Now he goes for the long lie down.

Fortunately, there were accompanying uplifting moments, most notably a grand finale to the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot and Rooster Booster's affirmation that form may be temporary but class permanent in Haydock's Champion Hurdle Trial.

In Lancashire, the grey did it the hard way, from the front. His win, from a pair of Jonjo O'Neill Champion Hurdle fancies in Hasty Prince and Specular, changed everything. Before racing, Rooster Booster's star was in the descendancy, yet immediately he seems to have run out of Champion Hurdle challengers. O'Neill also has Rhinestone Cowboy and Intersky Falcon in the hurdling championship, horses which complete a quartet of the good without producing a great.

Rooster Booster is likely to have a further tune-up before he defends his crown. "He will run again before Cheltenham but it is unlikely to be in Ireland [the AIG Champion Hurdle]," Philip Hobbs, his trainer, said yesterday. "He might run in the Agfa Hurdle at Sandown in February, which he won last year, and he will have an entry in the Tote Gold Trophy.

"He is fine this morning and I was very relieved to see him back in the winners' enclosure. It was a good performance."

The Victor Chandler Chase was at least as notable for Azertyuiop's defeat as Isio's success on behalf of the season's big-race fencing notables, Mick Fitzgerald and Nicky Henderson. Paul Nicholls's gelding was suffering defeat for only the second time in five completed chases. Even standing comparison with a runaway win in the Arkle Chase at the Festival last spring, this may transpire to be the best run of Azertyuiop's life.

A burdensome weight counted even more against Kingscliff, whose attachment to Cheltenham Gold Cup pretensions was loosened in defeat in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock. Sackcloth and ashes were not, however, on display at the Dorset yard of his trainer, Robert Alner, yesterday.

"We were giving more than a stone to Artic Jack, who is no mug, but we didn't run our race and he was never jumping with the fluency I've come to expect from him,"Alner said. "The probability is that he's pulled a muscle and I shall get Mary Bromiley to check his back.

"Jumping needs bright young hopes and something exciting to challenge Best Mate and, to be honest, there are not a lot of those around. I think that's why the press built him up so much, coupled with the fact that when his rein broke at Ascot, the horse received a lot of attention.

"After what has happened it will hopefully water down the hype so that I can get on with my job and get him right. If he isn't right, he won't run in the Gold Cup, but we still aim to run."

Racing in brief: Express takes Byrnes into the top flight

The Co Limerick trainer Charles Byrnes stole the honours from some bigger names with a valuable double at Leopardstown yesterday. Cloudy Bays was a 14-length winner over Be My Belle in the €100,000 (£70,000) Leopardstown Handicap Chase, while Dromlease Express benefited from a patient ride by John Allen - for only the 12th win of his career - to complete the double in the €130,000 (£91,000) Pierse Hurdle.

Emotional Moment is a 16-1 chance for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase after overcoming a last-fence blunder at Leopardstown to win the Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Novices' Chase in the hands of Barry Geraghty. The winning trainer, Tom Taaffe, said: "Barry and the horse got their wires crossed. The horse was very clever to get away with the mistake."

Funny Cide, last year's Kentucky Derby winner, got his four-year-old career off to a winning start with a five-length victory over just seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.