Racing: Fota Island on course for Cheltenham

With Paul Carberry replacing Loughran, still serving a ban for his blunder, Central House took his usual initiative, but never looked wholly at ease. And his being under-par handed the advantage to the gelding named after one of the favourite golf courses of his owner, JP McManus, the championship one at Cork. All four runners for the Normans Grove Chase were in the air together at the third last, but it was Fota Island, with Tony McCoy in the saddle, who was travelling the strongest. He was already drawing clear when Central House hit the penultimate obstacle hard and he won by a comfortable four lengths from Old Flame, with Strike Back third.

Attention was understandably on Central House, not just because of his previous misfortune; he had earlier put himself in the Queen Mother Champion Chase reckoning by beating Moscow Flyer and Rathgar Beau. But it is Fota Island who has advanced his Cheltenham claims, now as short as 6-1 third favourite, behind Kauto Star and Moscow Flyer, for the two-mile crown.

Though 10, Fota Island is in only his second season over fences and has an eyecatching upward profile. He was a classy hurdler, ending his career over the smaller obstacles by being beaten only by a pair of champions, Hardy Eustace and Rooster Booster, at Punchestown, and capped his novice chasing season by winning feature handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival (off a feather-weight) and Aintree (despite a 12lb rise) .

The Supreme Leader bay is a notably attractive individual, with the length and strength from hip to hock that promotes a swinging, ground-devouring stride and is so beloved of horsemen. Giving 3lb and a four-length beating to Old Flame, a horse rated a stone and a half his inferior, was not, on the book, a top-level performance, and undoubtedly Central House, who finished lame, had an excuse for his off-day. But balancing those caveats was the fact that Fota Island hated the soft going, and will now be minded carefully by his trainer, Mouse Morris, until his big day in March.

"He can't do any more than win," said Morris. "He jumped well out of that ground. When I walked the course earlier it was tacky and I thought we might only be second. He's on track for the Champion Chase and will go straight there. He's a better horse on better ground, we know that from the form-book. I'm happy with him, and so was Tony."

Other news from Ireland yesterday concerned a hurdling newcomer and an old-hand chaser. Smart ex-Flat racer Tolpuddle, who holds a Champion Hurdle entry, made a winning debut - just - over obstacles when he held on by a head in heavy ground at Cork. And the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup third, Harbour Pilot, teamed up with Nina Carberry at Tinahely, Co Wicklow, to take his first point-to-point by eight lengths en route to Cheltenham's Foxhunters'.

Kingscliff, who won the hunters' crown 45 minutes after Harbour Pilot's effort against Best Mate, was one of several high-profile performers to disappoint over the weekend, but was reported by trainer Robert Alner to be in fine fettle yesterday after his second place to surprise winner Ebony Light at Haydock, and still on course for the Gold Cup.

"I don't like to keep making excuses, but he struggled on the sticky ground," said Alner. "We'll give him a break and start working back towards Cheltenham." Ginger McCain's charge Ebony Light will continue his road to Aintree back at Haydock next month.

Arcalis, pulled up in the Champion Hurdle Trial won by Al Eile, is unscathed and will fight another day, but his Howard Johnson stablemate Lord Transcend will not. The dashing, but glass-limbed, grey limped out behind Ebony Light and has been retired.

Paul Nicholls's unprecedented feat of saddling six winners on the same card at Wincanton on Saturday perhaps summed up the uphill struggle facing Martin Pipe to retain his long-held trainers' title. For years the 15-times champion has tried for a six-timer, often with mass entries at low-key early-season meetings, but the nearest he came was five, at Exeter in 1991 and Chepstow a year later. Now Nicholls has not only trumped him, but did so on a competitive Saturday card. The record-setting super septet - Rafaello, East Lawyer, The Luder, Almost Broke, Nippy Des Mottes and Bold Fire - paid 1,776-1, gave Nicholls his fastest century and took him more than £400,000 clear of Pipe on the leaderboard.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence