Racing: Moscow Flyer is toppled after desperate duel

By Richard Edmondson at Punchestown
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The Independent Online

In 1868, when Punchestown racecourse was visited by the Prince Of Wales, the future King Edward VII, the races allegedly drew a crowd of 150,000, which makes it the biggest audience ever to attend a meeting.

In 1868, when Punchestown racecourse was visited by the Prince Of Wales, the future King Edward VII, the races allegedly drew a crowd of 150,000, which makes it the biggest audience ever to attend a meeting.

One observer at the time reported: "Every residence in the neighbourhood, from that of peer down to peasant, bore evidence of the approaching meeting for days previous. To judge by the highway, one could suppose Dublin to be deserted."

There was a comparison of sorts yesterday when Moscow Flyer, the sort of modern royalty they can stomach in these parts, emptied at least part of the capital to attend what was billed as an aristocratic flypast.

The Punchestown Festival has become an opportunity for Ireland's Festival winners to perform a valedictory and triumphal round. None qualified better than the great Moscow, hero of Cheltenham and Aintree, the horse which had won his last seven races and all 19 completed starts over fences, the highest-rated jumping animal in the world. Romance, however, paid shoddy respect at what they like to call peerless Punchestown. Just as the National Hunt season is fading away, this is the meeting which clamps the defibrillators on the body racing. But, yesterday, it was the heart which was removed from the Moscow Flyer story.

The 11-year-old was beaten by just a short-head in the Champion Steeplechase, but it does not take great distance to shatter a spell. Moscow Flyer fell victim to Rathgar Beau, a horse he has cowed on several previous occasions, perhaps also victim to father time. Jessica Harrington, the 1-4 favourite's trainer, smiled beforehand and she smiled in the aftermath. "What's the point in being disappointed?" she said. "The horse is a fantastic horse. No other horse has done what he has and he's finally been beaten."

It was a violent denmouement to what appeared to be a well-established script. Moscow Flyer certainly did not appear a diminished animal in the preliminaries. He was a sprightly figure as his audience recognised the champion with sporadic applause. The seasoned one settled into a metronomic gallop as well, behind the pace-setting Colca Canyon and Mossy Green. There was a pleasing sense of inevitability when Moscow Flyer jumped to the front at the fourth last, even if it was not a convincing vault which took him there. Indeed, for some reason not known to man, the great horse has never jumped well at his local track. The accident waiting to happen yesterday came at the second last, which seems to be in a permanent black spot for Moscow Flyer. Two years ago he did not recognise its very existence and unseated Barry Geraghty. Yesterday was marginally better, but Moscow Flyer once again did not take an extravagantly aerial route.

The favourite seemed intent on destroying the obstacle rather than clearance. Rathgar Beau was delivered the lead and, despite an idle tendency of his own, the bit-part player for once had his day. It was a desperate duel to the line and one which ultimately delivered a number two which will now sit rather conspicuously in Moscow Flyer's form figures. Harrington admitted she was disappointed, but it was an emotion largely tempered by recent domestic travails for the moment, a racing result is simple bagatelle.

"The way my luck had been going lately I'm delighted to have a horse. That's all that matters to me,"' she said. "It will be far worse if I was looking at a trailer coming in there.

"I lost Ulaan Bataar on Friday and I lost another horse on Tuesday. When you lose two horses in a week you couldn't care less about winning. "Barry says Moscow Flyer never runs well here. He doesn't travel. Probably I shouldn't bring him, but he is the local horse.

"When you get put on that pedestal it is so easy to fall off it. But at least I've got a horse. The great thing is that we all wake up alive tomorrow morning."