If ruby Walsh is ever in need of more sponsorship, he should consider approaching the manufacturers of Velcro, for to survive the two horrendous mistakes by the brilliant but erratic, novice chaser Strong Flow in the Feltham Chase yesterday was proof of some stickability.
The testament to the Irish rider's faith came as he drove the young horse to the final obstacle, which he had tried to uproot first time round, and dared him to go over it, rather than through. For if Strong Flow had hit it this time he would not have stopped rolling until Heathrow.
It was a sensational display of horsemanship by Walsh to take the Grade One contest. After his errors Strong Flow did exceptionally well to get back into the three-miler over the King George course with Ballycassidy blazing away in front.
The leader was not stopping on the final run for home and Walsh's only recourse was the death or glory approach. Glory it was, with a leap from Strong Flow, that drew a collective gasp from the massive crowd and a tension-releasing ovation for the partnership as they passed the post.
Strong Flow maintained his position as favourite for the Cheltenham championship for his division, the Royal & SunAlliance Chase. "He's a big strong staying horse who tanks a bit at his fences," said the winning trainer, Paul Nicholls. "You can see why we opted to run him in the novices' race rather than the King George itself. But he's going to have to learn to settle."
Intersky Falcon won the Christmas Hurdle for the second successive year, beating reigning champion Rooster Booster in the process, but his rather cosy victory caused few ripples in the title betting.
It was a tactical race, with his camp coming out best in the subterfuge stakes as they ignored the temptation to take on Rooster Booster's pacemaker up front. Instead, Liam Cooper rode a waiting race on a customary front-runner and picked off Rooster Booster and fellow-grey Sporazene going to the last. It was a bounce back to form for the Jonjo O'Neill-trained chestnut after a disappointing run last time out.
Rooster Booster's trainer Philip Hobbs was typically phlegmatic in defeat. "This sharp track wouldn't suit him ideally," he said of the nine-year-old. "Cheltenham will be another day, a stiffer track, a faster end-to-end gallop. I expect he'll run a few times before then."
Almost the loudest cheer of the day came after the opening race. As Contraband and Tony McCoy galloped clear to maintain Martin Pipe's position at the head of the trainers' table in his private battle with Nicholls, the pursuing Dempsey did the splits grotesquely as he tried to recover from a mistake and crashed to the ground, throwing his rider Jim Culloty.
The situation looked grim as the dreaded screens went up, but after 10 minutes the horse rose to his feet, apparently unscathed.Reuse content