Racing: Ollie Magern heads for top flight with a golden glow

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The Independent Online

Considering that those two had finished runners-up in, respectively, last season's King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup, victorious trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies' immediate reaction was not out of place. "Kicking King and Best Mate had better watch out," he said.

Beside the massive, imposing Kingscliff, Ollie Magern looked rather like a free sample, but there is no doubting the size of his heart. The seven-year-old, racing for the first time since February, set off with the choke out and Carl Llewellyn more or less a passenger over the first few fences, but kept up his enthusiastic gallop, chased by the other habitual trailblazer in the field, Grey Abbey.

Rounding the final turn for home, just four of the eight starters remained in bunching, jostling contention. Grey Abbey was the first to crack, and was pulled up before two out. Both Kingscliff and Take The Stand loomed to threaten Ollie Magern, but the little gelding, whose jumping had been quick and athletic throughout, attacked the last as bravely as the first and held a staying-on Kingscliff by a length and a quarter.

"We've always rated him as a Gold Cup contender," added Twiston-Davies, "but he was brilliant today. He gave himself no chance, ran much too free, and yet he still won. But then he never knows when he's beaten. He'll be much more settled next time and so he will improve for this run."

Though only in his second term as a chaser, Ollie Magern has mixed it with the big boys before. He was pitched into handicap company early in his career and emerged with much credit, running second in last year's Hennessy Gold Cup before beating the subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner Trabolgan in a Grade One contest on his return to the novice ranks.

His season was curtailed by a crack in his off-hind cannon bone just a week before an ambitious tilt at the Gold Cup and the ecstatic welcome he was given yesterday by his lad Craig Gilbey and owner Roger Nicholls said much about the emotion and tension surrounding his recovery and return to action. "He is one of the most lovely horses I've encountered," confirmed Twiston-Davies, "so genuine, kind and gentle."

Ollie Magern's next target is next month's Betfair Chase at Haydock which, with the King George and Gold Cup, offers a £1m bonus. Kingscliff and Take The Stand are also taking that route, as are Best Mate, due to resume his career at Exeter on Tuesday, and Kicking King.

It was 40-year-old Llewellyn who provided the most objective post-race assessment. "It was just another step up the ladder and he is going to have to improve again to get to the top. Yes, he has beaten a good-class field but Kicking King would have won with his head in his chest, and so would Best Mate."

Earlier, Grey Abbey's stablemate Inglis Drever gave Howard Johnson's yard some cheer by making a thoroughly satisfactory seasonal reappearance in the West Yorkshire Hurdle. Last year's top staying hurdler and Order of Merit leader, Graham Wylie's six-year-old jumped professionally, led two out and stayed on strongly on the run-in, drawing three lengths clear of Redemption.


Serious bet Emirates Sevens (1.0, Lingfield): $325,000 yearling, this Godolphin runner should have learned from his debut.

Fun bet George The Best (Ayr, 4.30). Not in league of near namesake, but this contest could be a scoring opportunity.