Our Vic, the 9-2 favourite, maintained Martin Pipe's extraordinary record in the season's first feature steeplechase yesterday, winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup with a bravura display of equine athleticism. And in so doing, the seven-year-old gelding, left no doubts as to just why Pipe is the 15-times champion trainer of jumpers.
For this is a horse who, less than a year ago, was lying on the landing side of the final fence here after a twisting, bone-crunching horror of a fall. The physical and mental legacy of the experience was huge, though not wholly apparent until after two subsequent outings, in which he was pulled up, sore and miserable.
Battered in body and mind, Our Vic was started again from scratch over the summer and Pipe's first words afterwards were for the team who brought the horse to yesterday's fray healed and happy. "The vets, the physiotherapist, the girl who looks after him, everyone," he said. "His injuries were life-threatening. He had pulled ligaments and there was deep bruising everywhere. This is a wonderful result for us all."
As soon as the tapes rose yesterday it was apparent that all was well with Our Vic. An imposing individual, he set off more than enthusiastically, running and jumping so strongly in Timmy Murphy's hands that he had joined battle in the front rank by the fourth fence. Coming down the hill he was clear and being roared home; one possible danger disappeared with Redemption's fall two out and it was left to his old rival Monkerhostin - the beneficiary of that terrible fall last December - to chase him up the hill, two and a half lengths adrift. Kandjar D'Allier came in third, and Fondmort fourth.
For Murphy, the only dicey moment came at the final obstacle, when he was blinded by the low winter sun. "Martin's only instructions were to jump the first fence, and make sure I was still there to jump the last," he said. "The problem was, I couldn't see it. But I hoped the horse could."
Our Vic could, for he shifted direction and hopped neatly over in a shortened stride. That, for his lass, Susie Crockett, was the moment of truth. "If he was brave enough to trust himself to do that at the fence that nearly killed him, with the sun in his eyes, I knew he was back to his old self," she said. "He's a highly intelligent horse, perhaps too intelligent for his own good, because he remembered too much.
"When he ran the two times after his fall, I could see he was hating it. It has been a long road with him. But we've given him all the time he's needed during the summer, playing about with him, taking him out around the woods and tracks and getting him confident again."
One man, in particular, has helped Our Vic get back his self-belief, the former jockey Jon Lower, who does the schooling at Nicholashayne. "All credit to him," added Murphy. "The horse jumped quite beautifully."
The victory, worth £62,722 to the winning owner, David Johnson, was Pipe's fifth in the race in six years, eighth in all and fourth of the meeting that he so habitually monopolises.
The start of the big race was delayed for 10 minutes because of the setting sun and the timing of chases may be reviewed. Richard Johnson, Monkerhostin's rider, said: "He was lucky not to fall at the second fence up the straight, a mistake definitely due to the sun, but it didn't affect my position at the end."
Our Vic has been introduced into the betting for the Hennessy Gold Cup 13 days hence as favourite (at prices between 4-1 and 8-1) but Pipe would not commit him to that task. "Today was the plan," he said. "There has been a lot of pressure getting him right again, and I have not really thought any further."
Should Our Vic turn out at Newbury, one of his rivals will be Trabolgan, nudging him at the top of the market in some lists. Nicky Henderson, on the mark yesterday with the smart-looking staying chaser Crozan, revealed that the seven-year-old, winner of the Royal and SunAlliance Chase in March on his last outing, would skip a clash with Kicking King in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday and represent Seven Barrows in the Hennessy, instead of Juveigneur.