After Monet's Garden, one of last season's crack novice chasers, made a gratifyingly satisfactory start to his senior career, his rider Tony Dobbin paid him the considerable compliment of comparing him with the best horse ever to emerge from his stable. Not as good as the paragon, you understand, but at least mentioned in the same sentence. "He's the same colour, sure," said the rider, "but it's more than that. It's the way he jumps and the way he travels. He's got a long way to go to be One Man, but we can dream. And he'd be the closest we've had."
Should Monet's Garden prove the equal of the great Gordon Richards-trained grey who won two King George VI Chases and a Queen Mother Champion Chase, he will be some tool, among the all-time top 20 chasers. Yesterday's victory at Carlisle was merely the first step on the road, but one brimful of excitement.
The severely undulating Cumbria track is no mug's test when the ground is as heavy as it was yesterday. That, plus the presence of very good French raider Mid Dancer, a proven mudlark, ensured that the race was no sinecure for Monet's Garden. Punters, however, decided that a walkover, not a match, was the order of the day, backing their favourite to 4-11.
The two and a half mile race proved full of interest. Dobbin, willingly aided by Monet's Garden, grabbed it by the scruff from the off; the set of the jockey's shoulders and the thrust of the horse's powerful grey quarters at the first of the 13 obstacles set the tone. It was a tale of two sitters, in a way; no-one could possibly have ridden as short over fences at Carlisle before as did Christophe Pieux, but his quiet style, poised over Mid Dancer's withers, clearly suits the horse, who flowed fast and economically over the birch, French-fashion.
Up front, Dobbin attacked, getting some spectacular leaps from Monet's Garden as he fired him at his fences. Jumping is the eight-year-old's long suit; he is extravagant but athletic, sure-footed and accurate. Mid Dancer crept stealthily closer through the last mile and was almost on terms two out, but Monet's Garden maintained his metronome gallop up the draining climb to the post and had two and a half lengths to spare at the line.
Given that Mid Dancer - unbeaten in 12 races at home - kept him honest and that he hated the boggy ground, it was a pleasing return to action. "Our fella has done really well to win," confirmed Dobbin. "He is such a good mover and jumper and so quick that he'll be much better on better ground. And that French horse loves this ground and is really talented, make no mistake.
"Ours was still a little burly and a bit keen in front, just wanted to get on with it, so he'll improve a heap. It's all systems go now."
Though second in last year's Arkle Trophy, Monet's Garden was a high-class staying hurdler and three miles round Kempton in the King George VI Chase looks right up his street. He is now vying for favouritism, with Kauto Star, to make it another white Christmas for Greystoke in what is likely to be his next outing.
Trainer Nicky Richards kept up another family tradition, that of understated pleasure. "That wasn't too bad," he said. "He looked as big as a house before the race and blew up during it and we didn't need that other horse being here, but we had to get going. He wants proper good ground, he's a different horse on it. But he can jump all right, he's got springs in his legs."
The European Flat season is still kicking - just - and yesterday Mount Nelson gave Ballydoyle its 14th Group One of the year in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud. The son of Rock Of Gibraltar, ridden by Seamus Heffernan, stepped up from success in a Curragh maiden last week to better France's best juvenile Spirit One by a head.
The mile race has a short but distinguished history, with Bago, Dalakhani and Act One three of its six previous winners and Mount Nelson has been duly introduced into Derby lists. The colt is a first top-level strike for his sire, also responsible for yesterday's third Yellowstone, but, ironically, the young stallion recently received something of a no-confidence vote from Coolmore, as he will stand in Japan next year.
Nap: Bonnet's Pieces (Warwick 2.20)
NB: Saddlers Cloth (Plumpton 2.10)Reuse content