Racing: Rivals bewildered by Asian Maze

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The Independent Online

Irish jump racing endured a humbling depression in the years after Dawn Run, but its unprecedented prosperity since could now have found a mare of similar iconic properties. Asian Maze is stabled with the son of Dawn Run's trainer, at the same Co Kilkenny yard, and her performance here yesterday suggested that she, too, might yet win the hearts of a nation.

Asian Maze will not be getting in Brave Inca's way this afternoon, despite having been declared for the ACC Bank Hurdle, but she will certainly be making a nuisance of herself next season. In the Whitewater Champion Stayers' Hurdle she became the third successive champion to dictate terms to her subjects this week, making all with the same gusto as War Of Attrition and Newmill.

She was followed home by a 100-1 shot and never looked in the remotest danger, but Ruby Walsh told her trainer that she was capable of much better. "He said that she would have won a distance over two and a quarter miles, or two and a half, but that she was feeling the pinch over three," Tom Mullins said. "He is convinced she is not a staying mare but a Champion Hurdle mare."

An early fall at Cheltenham last month left the case unproven. She had since thrashed Hardy Eustace over two and a half miles at Aintree, and drying ground persuaded Mullins to step her up in trip here. "She jumped better today, but then she did get a fright at Cheltenham," he said. "She was distracted when the horse in front hit the hurdle and just forgot the landing gear. But she's a very clever mare, and very tough."

Coral cut Asian Maze from 14-1 to 10-1 for the 2007 Smurfit Champion Hurdle, but in the meantime she may go for the French version and even the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot.

This has been an indelible Festival for the Mullins clan and it is quite possible that Tom's brother, Willie, will also be converging upon Brave Inca next season with Quatre Heures, his sixth winner of the meeting in the Grade One juvenile hurdle.

He might well have won with his other runner, Mister Hight, but for a fairly melodramatic manoeuvre by Walsh between the last two flights, prising open a perilous gap between Breathing Fire and the rail. Mister Hight was squeezed through, but his jumping lacks fluency at the best of times and he took a rather frightened fall, for a second time all but dragging Breathing Fire aground.

Meanwhile Quatre Heures scurried eight lengths clear under Mick Fitzgerald, substituting for the injured David Casey. Mullins thanked Casey for giving the riding instructions beforehand, though also indicated that he did not think much of his performance on the same horse down the field at Cheltenham last time. Quatre Heures may also go for a valuable prize in France now.

The other élite prize on the card fell to Accordion Etoile, who erased the memory of a drunken jump at Aintree last time in the Swordlestown Cup. His trainer, Paul Nolan, had confined his orders in the parade ring to two words: "Get round." The horse travelled and jumped well throughout, though John Cullen did have a comically vivid change of heart at the final fence, raising his whip high but dangling it as the horse went pop, rather than bang. Instead it was Justified who hit the fence hard, so ending his determined resistance.

Once again, however, the most memorable ride of the day came from Nina Carberry, who elaborated her talent on Good Step in the Blue Square La Touche Cup, over banks, ditches and sundry immovable objects. Unquestionably this lady is an irresistible force.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Notable Guest

(Sandown 1.45)

NB: Hopeful Purchase

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