Magnanimity in adversity is priceless in the world of the fragile equine physique, as trainer Evan Williams demonstrated yesterday. The Welshman, something of a wizard with crocks, swallowed his disappointment with grace after Pole Star, whom he had thought not only a certainty here in the novices' chase but also a genuine Cheltenham Festival prospect, trailed home a well-beaten second and walked off the track sore.
The eight-year-old, once third in an Ascot Gold Cup in his palmy days on the Flat, has had his share of physical vicissitudes and seemed, after five years in a Newmarket yard, to have lost the plot mentally as well. But the transfer during the close season to the wide-open spaces of Llancarfan, Glamorgan, and a change of regime appeared to have worked the oracle after a sparkling success at Exeter.
But any dreams are now on hold after Paul Green's classy little gelding limped away, accompanied by the course vet, after being unsaddled. "The bubble has burst," Williams said. "I knew we might be in trouble when the other one went past us so quickly but you just have to take this sort of thing on the chin and get on with it. Winning is good, it's what we all want to do, but first and foremost we want the horses to come home safe. I'd rather he'd gone down a short-head and finished sound than for this to have happened. I don't like to say he was beaten only because he seems to have gone wrong behind because it sounds disrespectful to the winner, but he did come here in absolutely terrific form."
Williams had positive news of his most famous revitalised charge, the Hennessy winner State Of Play. "He's well and happy and we're just chipping away with him," he said. "I've no regrets about not taking on Kauto Star round Kempton. I expect we'd have got blasted off the park like everything else."
Last month's Newbury victory elevated Williams to the big-time. His New Year resolution is level-headed, though. "Just to keep surviving," he said. "That's the hardest part."
The horse who finished 19 lengths to the good yesterday, Flying Enterprise, prompted a double for Venetia Williams. Tony McCoy, in the saddle, pressed 4-6 shot Pole Star throughout the final circuit, eventually pulling clear from three out. "It was his plan to ride like that, to take on the favourite," said Williams (NYR: "to lose the overweight I put on over Christmas."). "The horse is not very big, but he's very brave." The Williams double, completed by handicap chaser Fast Forward, was nearly a three from three here, her third runner Kelrev going down to Lord Of Beauty in the handicap hurdle. Limerick Boy, though, did bring up a treble for the yard at Haydock.
Lord Of Beauty's trainer Noel Chance (NYR: "To give up drinking... no, make it to have as many more winners as possible!") performed a fine feat of conditioning with the six-year-old, whose outings since running on Grand National day last year have been restricted to two recent preps on Wolverhampton's all-weather. "He has legs of glass," said Chance of the chestnut. "But we knew if they held up the handicapper had given him a chance. He may have one more run over hurdles but then he'll go chasing. His legs have been fine, and those runs on the all-weather have stood them in good stead, but you never know when they might go again."
Nicky Henderson's hopes for 2007 were clear after Amaretto Rose became his ninth winner in six racing days in the novices' hurdle. "To keep going like they are running at the moment," he said. "It's been a jolly good Christmas." Amaretto Rose, making her hurdling debut, looked smart as she quickened 13 lengths clear of trailblazing Hobbs Hill. The nursery at Lingfield achieved its place in the history books by dint of all five declared runners hailing from the same stable, a first on the Flat. The contest became a match when trainer Peter Grayson withdrew three, leaving 2-11 favourite Grange Lili to beat Foxy Music a neck.
BETS OF THE DAY
Still unexposed over fences and back up in trip, the former pointer Flash Cummins (Warwick, 3.05) can continue to progress.
Beauchamp Twist (Warwick, 1.35) was hinting at ability at this moderate level before being brought down on his latest run.