For a change, the flag carried aloft into the hallowed winners' circle here yesterday was the cross of St George, figuratively for five out of the six winners and literally in the case of the new marathon monarch, My Way De Solzen. In the closest finish of the week, the Alan King-trained six-year-old held Golden Cross at bay by a head in the World Hurdle.
On the runner-up, Johnny Murtagh came so close to his dream of adding a Grade One jumping contest to his Derby wins. And the proximity of the Flat jockey made Robert Thornton, on the winner, the more delighted to succeed. "I wasn't sure it was Johnny coming at me," he said, "but I thought it might be. And after all, there was the honour of our weighing-room to uphold."
Thornton had a charmed run round on 8-1 shot My Way De Solzen, who arrived in the front rank at the third-last obstacle after his stablemate Crystal d'Ainay had showed much of the way, quickened to take a clear lead between the last two and tackled the climb to the finish with a will, despite a slight right-hand deviation towards Golden Cross.
"As races go, it was very smooth," added Thornton. "His jumping was awesome. I was slightly worried that I might have gone to the front too soon, because he doesn't do much in front, but he battled on well."
The Wiltshire-based King's decision to run My Way De Solzen on ground quicker than ideal was fully justified. "It wasn't as soft as I'd have liked, but it wasn't fast enough not to run," he said. "Apart from those last few strides I had no other worries; this horse is the proper job and was given a top ride. He's never stopped improving and whether we stick to hurdles is a serious question." It was King's second top-level winner of the week, after novice chaser Voy Por Ustedes on Tuesday.
Murtagh left the bitterly cold Cotswolds last night for rides in warm Dubai today, with no plans to return to the winter game. "In another stride he would have won," he said. "The other horse coming across to him helped, because he loves a fight. I honestly can't remember being so disappointed finishing second."
Before the race, Murtagh had intimated that he would show those jump boys how to ride a finish. "It was tongue-in-cheek," he said, "but it will teach me to keep my mouth shut."
Mighty Man, the 4-1 favourite, stayed on for third, four lengths adrift, with Fire Dragon fourth. But the former champion Baracouda, twice a winner and twice second, was never competitive; the 11-year-old's fifth place was gallant, but non-threatening. His tearful trainer, François Doumen, deflected quest-ions about the once great gelding's retirement, but said: "If he needs very soft ground to win then perhaps he is not the horse he was. This is the first time I have had to collect him from the back of the field here and it has made me so sad."
Emotion of the joyous kind flowed freely after the Ryanair Chase, won in a stirring finish by the course specialist Fondmort. "He's not an Arkle or a Best Mate," said the 10-year-old's trainer Nicky Henderson, "but this is his spiritual home." Henderson and Mick Fitzgerald made it a double with Non So in the two mile five furlong handicap.Reuse content