Those intent on self-improvement in 2007 were given a start here yesterday by an unusually didactic racecard, incorporating a history lesson from the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire and an ornithological profile of the dipper. One disclosed that the county was founded in 1007 by Eadric Steona, Ealdorman of Mercia; the other that the dipper, uniquely among songbirds, can walk underwater. But the most rewarding revelation surely came on the track itself, where My Way De Solzen promised to make a deep impression on the county during its millennium year. In fact, he almost looked as though he could walk on water.
Already a Festival winner over hurdles, My Way De Solzen has made such a fluent transition to fences that it is easy to imagine him contesting the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup itself next season. In the meantime he looks a formidable candidate for the Ryanair Chase in March, over the same distance he covered with such brio in the Aquanti Group "Dipper" Chase.
Gliding through the heavy ground, My Way De Solzen jumped magnificently in front. His only serious rival, Turko, did his best to keep step but the effort forced him into a series of errors. Over the last two fences the winner was merely applying his signature to what was a masterpiece of jumping for a novice round here.
He had made a similar impression on his debut over fences at Lingfield, only to bump into the breathless Fair Along at Sandown a month ago. Whether it was the return to a left-handed track, or the step back up in distance, My Way De Solzen was full of conviction this time. Robert Thornton was captivated. "When he gets close he's clever, but he'll do it the other way, too," the jockey said. "You can set him alight and he'll always come up for you."
Alan King, his trainer, summed him up as "a horse that fills you with confidence". Reiterating that My Way De Solzen would not even be entered for the SunAlliance Chase, a race he considers an unworthy slog, King would still contemplate returning to two miles for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy in the unlikely event of similar ground at the Festival. But the intermediate distance makes the Ryanair Chase the logical preference.
Another to have made an excellent start in a new discipline is Flight Leader, who took the Steel Plate and Sections Hurdle. Flight Leader has now only found one horse to beat him in four starts over hurdles, when taken off his feet on faster ground round Wincanton, and completed a memorable first afternoon of the year for Colin Tizzard. Having stayed rather closer to home, the trainer also saddled two winners at Exeter, ridden by his son, Joe.
Flight Leader was instead entrusted to Richard Johnson, for whom this was the 100th winner of another campaign in exasperated pursuit of Tony McCoy. Not that McCoy is the season's most prolific jockey: he has ridden 123 winners in Britain, whereas Ruby Walsh can add 91 in Ireland to 44 here. (McCoy has ridden just four in Ireland, though of course he was sidelined for two months during the summer.)
Walsh produced a deft display on Cornish Rebel in the Unicoin Handicap Chase, which was formally contested by just four runners, but also seemed to involve a variety of alter egos and other invisible fiends.
Cornish Rebel and Fork Lightning looked particularly reluctant heroes, but Walsh had unfinished business with his mount, whose photo-finish defeat at Ayr 18 months ago cost him an unprecedented Grand Slam of Nationals, after he had ridden the winners at Aintree, Fairyhouse and Chepstow. This time Cornish Rebel never had any sense of coercion, Walsh permitting him to think that crossing the line first was his own idea. His trainer was frank about Best Mate's half-brother. "Been a character since the day we got him," Paul Nicholls said. "He pulled himself up in the Hennessy, but Ruby says that something like the Midlands National should suit him."
Carl Llewellyn maintained his convincing start as a trainer and then reminded everyone that he can still ride, too. After welcoming back Too Forward, easy winner of the Unicoin Handicap Chase, he "jocked off" Mick Fitzgerald in the bumper and himself escort-ing Quartano through the dusk downpour to follow up his debut success at Exeter. It is not known whether Llewellyn was personally acquainted with Eadric Steona, but Fitzgerald must have been tempted to ask.
Nap: Inn From The Cold (Ayr 3.45)
NB: Anduril (Southwell 3.25)