Racing: Nickname shines through the fog to show Festival class

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The Independent Online

For Aintree 1947, read Punchestown 2007. Sixty years ago Caughoo emerged from a thick fog to win a Grand National of which only the last couple of fences were visible to those in the stands. Yesterday it was Nickname who loomed best from a mist that descended on the Co Kildare track for part of the afternoon. But at least it was certain that he and Ruby Walsh completed all of the race. Poor Caughoo and his rider, Eddie Dempsey, later faced unfounded accusations that they had pulled up in the country, lurked unseen, and joined in again second time round.

As the field of eight for the two-mile Tied Cottage Chase disappeared into the gloom, Central House led Tumbling Dice with the two-mile champion, Newmill, running over fences for the first time this term, in third and Nickname near the back. Then, for nearly three minutes, there was silence and wonderment.

The first audible news for racegoers was bad; those watching live could not see it, but commentator Des Scahill was able to pick it up on his monitor, courtesy of a remote camera. Newmill, still third, had taken a crashing fall four fences out.

The first sighting for punters was better; two fences out Walsh kicked Nickname, the 9-10 favourite, past Central House and into a growing lead. After the last the big brown French-bred quickened away for a seven-length success. Central House, seeing Nickname's powerful quarters for the fourth time this season, held off Steel Band for second.

What is clear is that Nickname is the best two-miler in Ireland by some way; Andrew McNamara, Newmill's rider, conceded that the best he would have been was second. But there is nothing opaque about the caveat that accompanies Martin Brassil's charge on his journey to the Queen Mother Champion Chase: his road must be a soft one.

Though yesterday's terrain was slightly quicker than he had trodden on his previous three victories this season, it was still easy on the hoof. And Brassil will continue to make hay with the eight-year-old while the sun does not shine, with an outing at Naas three weeks hence. "Ruby said they went a good gallop and he settled lovely," said the trainer. "He is having it so easy that the races are not taking that much out of him, and that's why he's able to run so often."

Walsh reported that Nickname overcame interference going to the final turn. "The two in front got a bit tight in front of me," he said, "but I had a lovely run in the straight and he quickened so well. If he does run at Cheltenham, he's got to be a huge player."

He was cut again for the two-mile crown after yesterday's effort, and is now vying for third favouritism at 6-1, behind Voy Por Ustedes and Newmill, who was reported relatively unscathed after his tumble. "He has a cut over one eye that will need a few stitches," his trainer, John Murphy, said, "but other than that he's fine."

De Valira, hitherto favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, was trounced by 50-1 shot Orbit O'Gold, given an enterprising ride from the front by Slippers Madden. The winner, another promising youngster from the Noel Meade academy, is bound for the Festival opener, for which De Valira, who was conceding 6lb yesterday, is out to 10-1.

The fog lifted for the cross-country chase involving the track's trademark banks. And it looks like Enda Bolger has found a natural successor to Spot Thedifference in the enthusiastic winner Heads Onthe Ground.

Detroit City, who kept his position as Champion Hurdle favourite with a gritty defeat of Straw Bear in Saturday's Agfa Hurdle, emerged from his box with a spring in his step yesterday. The giant grey hit the top of the last hurdle with his knees, but took the bump in his stride. "There are no ill-effects," said his trainer, Philip Hobbs, "He's A1, and won't run again before Cheltenham."