Racing: Silver strikes gold in mud

Two emerging hopes for the Cheltenham Festival make light of heavy ground
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Like brother, like brother. Silverburn, a sibling to the high-class Denman, sloshed through the mud here yesterday to win the Tolworth Hurdle, advertise his claims as one of the season's leading novices, and emerge as yet another young star in the champion trainer Paul Nicholls' constellation.

A year ago Denman likewise had a top-level victory under his girth and was heading for the Cheltenham Festival as a live candidate. But although the shake of the same genetic cocktail - the pair are by Presenting out of the Pollerton mare Polly Puttens, who is now only the 16th matron with the distinction of having given birth to two Grade One jump winners - has produced a similar racecourse aptitude, the two geldings are physically unalike.

"Denman is much bigger and lazier, doesn't show much at home and takes an awful lot of work to get him fit," said Nicholls. "This one is lighter, with more quality. He's always worked beautifully and we've thought a lot of him since the start. And he looked today as well as I've ever seen him."

The strong, elegant bay may have been a Stubbs painting going to post, but was a Jackson Pollock coming back. Torrential rain reduced the playing field to a bog and Paul Green's pale-blue colours to splattered sludge, though Ruby Walsh, in Silverburn's saddle, made light of the heavy. "It's testing, sure," he said, "but at least they can get through wet ground like this, and it's safe."

Silverburn, a 5-1 shot, hit the front two out, where a magnificent leap gained him ground in the air. It was an action replay at the last, where one looming threat, My Turn Now, took a crashing fall. The Irish raider Perce Rock, the 2-1 favourite, had also joined issue but could only plug on at one pace as the leader drew four lengths clear, despite lugging left, up the hill, with early trailbazer Astarador seven lengths third.

"He's still learning, but I love the way he jumps," said Walsh, "and just like his brother, he keeps a bit of something for himself. But you feel he'd give it to you if anything came at him."

Silverburn is the shorter price, at around 12-1, for the Ballymore Properties Hurdle, the longer of the two Cheltenham novice crowns, for which the year older Denman, now a top staying novice chaser, was the runner-up as favourite last year. Nicholls, taking his third Tolworth in five years, after Thisthatandtother and, 12 months ago, Noland, was delighted with Silverburn's performance. He said: "He's a big baby, and he was pricking his ears, but that was smashing."

The widest smile of the day, though, came from a loser. After his dreadful, neck-crunching fall, and one feeble attempt to raise his head, My Turn Now lay for dead and the presence of the screens presaged the worst. But the chestnut was only winded, and after 10 minutes scrambled to his feet; the beam on his lad's face as he led his charge safely back shone through the gloom. In his case, only one result mattered.

No Triumph Hurdle line-up would be complete without a sprightly candidate from Nicholashayne, and Pauillac duly joined Katchit and Lounaos at the head of the market after an untroubled all-the-way success in the juvenile contest. Timmy Murphy was always lobbing comfortably on the four-year-old, who found another gear on demand after the turn in, immediately putting his pursuers under pressure, and smoothly strode up the hill to win by two lengths without being asked a serious question. Junior stayed on best of the rest. Such is the competition for young French-bred prospects among jump racing's high-rolling owners that the handsome bay, winner of a non-thoroughbreds' race at Fontainbleau, was secured for David Johnson in a telephone deal just 20 minutes before Sir Robert Ogden's men marched into his former stable to try to buy him.

Pauillac, the 2-5 favourite, was making it two from two for Johnson and, as one with his high knee action should have been, was in his element yesterday. "Softish ground seems ideal for him," said his trainer, David Pipe. "He hasn't raced on anything else, here or in France, but I see no reason why he won't go on better. He's learning all the time."


Best shortshot
On his chasing debut smart hurdler Phar Bleu (Plumpton 1.10) can capitalise on the weight concession from Buena Vista.

Best longshot
If she takes to fences, course hurdles winner Alderbrook Girl (Plumpton 3.10) has at least proved she can battle, and goes on the ground.