Giant-killing on the field of sporting endeavour extended to racing yesterday, when the underdogs, in the shapes of the trainer Ben Pollock and his charge A Glass In Thyne, had their day. The loss of Cheltenham's key Festival trials meeting to frost switched the focus to a venue unaccustomed to a spotlight and it was entirely appropriate that a small-time operator took a small-time track's biggest-time prize.
The bounty, the Sky Bet Chase and its £60,000 purse, was here because of rebuilding works at its usual home, Doncaster. A Glass In Thyne was one of the outsiders in the 15-strong field but, with the assistance of bottom-weight in the handicap and Andrew Thornton in the saddle, he pounced late in the piece to deny another 16-1 shot, Europa, by two and a half lengths.
It was easily the finest moment in the fledgling career of Pollock, 31, formerly an accomplished amateur rider and now in his third season with a licence. And it was testament to his skill, for A Glass In Thyne is not the easiest horse to keep sound, let alone win a major pot with. Yesterday was only the sixth run of the eight-year-old's career. "We bought him as an unbroken four-year-old," said Pollock, "and he's proved very fragile. His run first time out this season, at Cheltenham in November, rather bottomed him, and we just had to leave him alone, and wait. It is only in the past two weeks he started to sparkle again."
The Market Harborough-based Pollock, who had two of the game's most solid handlers of a staying chaser, Tim Forster and Dick Saunders, as his mentors, had his best moment in the saddle when he won the 1999 Cheltenham Foxhunters on Castle Mane, and also partnered top-class Teeton Mill to a string of early successes. "I started off training with just three horses," he said, "and now there are 15. I hope this might be the signal for some more to come my way."
If owner John Dale's patience was rewarded, so was Thornton's, during the race. And the jockey was highly complimentary about A Glass In Thyne's education. "We were more or less flat out all the way," he said, "and I just had to sit at the pace where he was happy and bide my time. It was his jumping that took me there - he's very neat off the ground and quick through the air. I didn't really have to move a muscle."
On soft, dead ground, the contest, over an extended three miles, became a war of attrition which only seven finished. Keltic Bard (14-1) plodded home eight lengths third, with Our Armageddon fourth. One of the joint-favourites, Too Forward, was fifth; the other, one of the early pace-forcers, King Harald, unseated his rider at the last when fading from contention.
Depending on the state of his vitreous limbs, A Glass In Thyne may, or may not, appear in one of the handicaps at Cheltenham in March. But with that meeting in mind it may pay to attend to yesterday's placed horses anyway; in the past eight years three such - King Lucifer, In Truth and Frenchman's Creek - have won at the Festival.
The late abandonment of sport at Prestbury Park yesterday morning - the management gave the sun until 10.30am to do its work on the frozen ground before conceding defeat - means that the weekend's chief Festival pointers will be at Leopardstown today.
Ireland's three leading Champion Hurdle candidates renew rivalry in the Grade One contest that produced such a thrilling finish of muzzles 12 months ago. Then, Macs Joy beat Brave Inca a short-head, with Hardy Eustace inches behind. The last-named went on to secure his second title and is currently favourite for a third, but Brave Inca is not only an improved performer this term but will be the riper of the two cherries today and can prevail on this occasion.
One of the most exciting young finds of the season, Nickname, will have his mettle fully tested in the top-level novices' chase and, despite quicker ground than he has encountered thus far and a drop back in distance, the French-bred can extend his unbeaten record over fences against two more rising stars, Missed That and Justified.
BETS OF THE DAY
Wyldello (Hereford 4.40). Well-bred, from leading yard, and with the best form and experience.
Red Granite (Hereford 1.40). Bogged down last time, may prove solid as a rock for each-way punters on a lighter surface.