Racing: Noland finds extra gear to steal Straw Bear's thunder
Wednesday 15 March 2006
In a heartbeat, in a stride, in the flick of an eye, the goalposts here shifted. Ruby Walsh brought Noland more from the stratosphere than the clouds to snatch success in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Nick Gifford's cheers for his first Festival winner died in his throat as Straw Bear got mugged. And the punter who had spotted Walsh rowing at half-way and laid the apparent no-hoper in running at 999-1 on the betting exchanges was suddenly £20,000 the poorer.
The victory swoop was, though, remarkable. Noland was caught flat-footed as trailblazing Buena Vista began to wind up the steady enough early pace and although trainer Paul Nicholls, watching from the stands, was not unduly perturbed - his instructions had been to pounce late - it was a different matter in the saddle.
"Never mind waiting," he said, "he just couldn't go any faster." At the last, Noland still had seven rivals in front of him. "I thought I might catch one or two, and maybe be fourth," added the Irishman, riding the gelding in public for the first time.
Straw Bear, sent on from two out by Tony McCoy, was clumsy at the last, and let Buena Vista and Sublimity rejoin battle. Once rebalanced he charged up the hill. And then, with an irresistible turbo-boost, Noland's stamina kicked in.
The five-year-old is a chaser-in-waiting, and looks worthy to follow in the hoofprints of his owner John Hales's previous stars One Man and Azertyuiop. "He wants further than two miles already," said Nicholls, "Thank goodness we had the rain this morning to slow things up a bit."
It took Gifford's father Josh a long, long time to register a win at the Festival, but at least the son now knows the feeling of training one, even if only fleetingly. "I thought we had it," he said. "If he'd just jumped the last, who knows."
Both horses have Festival targets pencilled in for next year, Noland the Arkle Trophy and Straw Bear the Champion Hurdle. JP McManus's five-year-old is already as low as 14-1 to deprive Brave Inca of his title.
With Buena Vista hanging on for third, it was a clean sweep for the home side. And there was an Irish shut-out, too, in the other novices' Grade One contest, the Arkle Trophy. The two-miler provided a stirring duel as Voy Por Ustedes and Monet's Garden had the race to themselves from the top of the hill, jumping in a splendid rhythm until both fluffed the final obstacle.
Voy Por Ustedes and Choc Thornton gathered themselves first and delivered better acceleration to win by a length and a quarter. Five lengths back, from off the pace, came Foreman for France.
The high-mettled winner had enough energy left to deliver a robust buck as he was applauded into the winner's circle. "He's just brilliant," said Thornton. "He missed one slightly at the top of the hill, but turning the bend he was running away again." Alan King, the five-year-old's trainer, said: "He's been a natural from day one, but he's volatile."
The principals will be taking different routes in their future lives. Voy Por Ustedes who remains unbeaten over fences, will stick to two miles; Monet's Garden will step up. Unusual, perhaps, for a Festival star, but trainer Nicky Richards has a three-miler at Perth next month pencilled in for the grey.
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