Racing: Ruby legend given lustre by Gungadu

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The danger in this sport can be to miss the brush stroke while looking at the bigger picture, and one such pointillist detail was available for inspection here yesterday at the final open ditch in the three-mile novices' chase. By then Gungadu, the odds-on favourite, and In Accord had drawn well clear of their rivals. The two chestnuts had made a fine, stirring sight, matching strides and jumping as one, and again rose together at this obstacle.

But the difference was that this time Ruby Walsh, on Gungadu, asked that little more from his mount, and got it. The seven-year-old launched himself that fraction more powerfully, flew that fraction more quickly through the air, landed and galloped on that fraction more purposefully. It was the moment the screw turned; Walsh knew it, and so, on In Accord, did Mark Bradburne, who was soon in drive position.

Gungadu, however, almost threw the advantage so sweetly gained away. Two fences later, four from home, the 2-5 shot took off a stride early and scrabbled feet-first through the birch, though to his credit his strength and balance kept him solidly upright with little momentum lost. It was a punter, rather than rider, frightener.

"He's a novice," said Walsh, reasonably. "He's entitled to a mistake. It may have looked hairy, but not from where I was. He never felt like falling and landed running."

Gungadu, who produced a particularly competent leap at the last, as if wishing to put the record about his technique straight under close inspection from the stands, had 25 lengths to spare at the line. He is now bound for the Cheltenham Festival, although such is the wealth of emerging talent under the care of his trainer, the champion Paul Nicholls, that he may eschew the obvious target, the Royal & SunAlliance Chase.

His stablemate Denman is favourite for that test, and the pair will not meet. "If Denman gets there, this one won't run against him," said Nicholls. "His race would then be the amateurs' four-miler, and we'd try to get Colman Sweeney, who won points on him in Ireland, to ride."

Gungadu showed a slight tendency to jump right-handed yesterday, not ideal at Cheltenham, but as Nicholls pointed out, he has already won at Prestbury Park. "He's one of our best-jumping novices," he added, "and he'd have no trouble with the trip. All he does is jump and stay."

Walsh's matchless sense of timing was apparent with a broader sweep when he produced Ladalko to lead at the last fence in the day's other feature, the Totesport Classic Chase, before recording a four-length success from Mon Mome and making it a double not only for himself and Nicholls but also for the joint-owners of both geldings, Paul Barber and Maggie Findlay. The last-named's son Harry, a pro punter, may or may not have been instrumental in Ladalko being backed from 8-1 in the morning to 9-2 favourite.

By any standards, Ladalko is not a natural over fences, having fallen in his previous two efforts, but a second over hurdles at Cheltenham boosted his confidence and he was, for him, foot-perfect yesterday.

"He is as awkward as he looks," confirmed Walsh, "but it is probably difficult for him. He's a big slab of a horse, straight-shouldered and long-backed, and he finds it difficult to shorten. He's just not elastic like Gungadu, who is on springs. But three miles five on soft ground gives me time to organise him and him time to think a bit. He can creep round before getting involved in a race." It was a second successive win for Nicholls and Walsh in the valuable marathon, after Eurotrek, who is now a leading Grand National fancy. Ladalko, too, will be entered at Aintree.

"He's much happier going left-handed," said Nicholls, "in fact he's only ever fallen going right-handed. And sometimes Aintree can bring out the best in his sort of jumper. But this race has been his target; I don't think I've ever had him looking better."

At Kempton, the reversion to hurdles of high-class chaser Racing Demon ended when he fell four out in the Lanzarote Hurdle, won by Gary Moore's Verasi.


Best shortshot: Well-regarded King Johns Castle (Leopardstown 1.20) can put a poor last display behind him and get back on the Cheltenham trail.

Best longshot: In a wide-open handicap, Black Apalachi (Leopards-town 1.50), a course and distance winner, could be worth each-way support.