Racing: Walsh deadly accurate with Predateur's swoop

It is one of the everyday pleasures of racing that its champions can transcend the meanest times and places. You can come somewhere like this on a vile afternoon and witness greatness. With the Blackdowns appearing only as a brief, grey sketch between squalls, two epic talents exalted proceedings with their riding - and one even found an accomplice worthy of a nobler stage.

In fairness to Taunton, races carrying £20,000 in prize-money are seldom found anywhere on a Monday. And the Staple Fitzpaine Novices' Hurdle - named after the nearby village where mysterious sandstone boulders are said to have been thrown by the devil at the church - was certainly won by an uncommon animal in Predateur.

Half way through the race Paul Nicholls muttered that Ruby Walsh seemed to think he was on Arkle. Certainly he was riding Predateur with appropriate stealth. Round one of the country's sharpest tracks he gave the rest a generous start and when the leaders kicked for home he responded with something that resembled apathy as much as nonchalance.

Yet Walsh can read the tautness of his reins like a fuel gauge and, sure enough, Predateur coasted through the whole field without coming off the bridle. The French import led before the last, and if he rather splayed his way over, he was soon raking clear and nine lengths was a fairly random measure of his superiority.

Even Nicholls seemed a little startled. "He was way too free on his first run for us, at Wincanton," the champion trainer said. "So I told Ruby that win, lose or draw he should drop out and get there late. But I didn't think he would cut through them quite like that."

At first sight, William Hill seemed to show inadequate respect in offering 25-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle. "But he's not the sort you would want to see rattling round on fast ground," Nicholls said. "Though he ran on the Flat in France, you only need to look at him - he's 16.2 - to see that he's a chaser in the making. He wants looking after until he jumps a fence because he looks like he might be a bit special. But while the ground stays soft he can probably nick a decent juvenile hurdle, maybe the one at Cheltenham at the end of this month."

The emergence of Walsh over recent years has provided a far more stimulating measure of Tony McCoy than any statistics, so the champion will have derived particular pleasure from consecutive verdicts over his great rival.

Both winners were saddled by Martin Pipe, back on duty at his local track and relishing this reunion with an old ally. One, Marcel in the novice chase, starred in a black comedy: the other two runners did not finish, but neither McCoy nor Walsh had a willing partner. Two out Walsh dropped his whip on odds-on Spidam, but it was going to be of precious little use anyway. When Spidam finally started to run down Marcel, he seemed sadistically aware that he had left it one stride too late.

Pipe revealed that Acambo is being prepared for the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury. At Ascot last month Acambo gave Pipe's son, David, his biggest win since they exchanged roles but there were suggestions afterwards that he might go chasing. Success at Newbury would instead elevate Acambo into earnest contention for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle itself.

The favourite for that race, Detroit City, is to have just one run beforehand, at Sandown, though Philip Hobbs doubts whether he will even have that if the present deluges persist. "If it came up really testing for the Agfa Hurdle, we'd have to think again," the trainer said. "There's not much in the way of alternatives - the Kingwell would be on the sharp side - but it wouldn't worry me if we had to go straight to Cheltenham."

Hobbs saddled a promising newcomer in Greenbridge in the bumper, but nobody could pretend the whole card had been immune to Monday flavours. Certainly the selling hurdle was pretty grotesque, but it will be forever cherished by Martin Keighley, for whom Prince Dundee was his first winner with a professional training licence. Having ridden as an amateur for David Nicholson, Keighley has cut his teeth with point-to-pointers and is now reviving his late mentor's old base at Condicote.

* Jamie Spencer received a 10-day ban yesterday for his riding of Mickmacmagoole at Southwell over a year ago. Although in breach of the rule which covers failure to take all reasonable measures to obtain the best possible placing, he was not found guilty of breaking the more serious "non-triers" rule, which covers intent to not ride the horse on its merits. "I'm glad I've been cleared of deliberately stopping a horse, as that is the reason I came here," the jockey said.

* Today's card at Leicester is abandoned, waterlogged.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Highland Games (Sedgefield 2.35)

NB: Mind Alert (Southwell 1.50)

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