Young Spartacus toughs it out

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One man's love affair with racing, a relationship that has lasted decades and survived the trauma of a broken back, brought sweet reward for devotion here at Kempton yesterday in the afternoon's feature, the Racing Post Chase.

One man's love affair with racing, a relationship that has lasted decades and survived the trauma of a broken back, brought sweet reward for devotion here at Kempton yesterday in the afternoon's feature, the Racing Post Chase.

Bart Hellyer, the winning owner, has been confined to a wheelchair since a point-to-pointing fall 30 years ago; the horse he welcomed to the victory circle was Young Spartacus, an eight-year-old whose great-grand-dam was winning at Aintree in the family colours during the Sixties.

Hellyer saw no reason to desert the sport that put him in Stoke Mandeville for six months, though his enjoyment has, necessarily, been vicarious for some time. But his delight in yesterday's triumph was perhaps the more for its cerebral qualities, being part of the backroom team behind the very existence of Young Spartacus.

"It's definitely one for the small British breeder," he said proudly. "My father, Andrew, bought his great-grandmother Brand X, who won the Mildmay at Liverpool, actually after having had a foal. We bred a mare called Branded Slave from her, and then that one produced Celtic Slave, Young Spartacus' mum, and we've watched them all growing up."

Rutland-based Hellyer's accident prompted a change of direction; he is now an internationally-known personal injury lawyer. The concept of not giving up applied equally to man and horse yesterday, for Young Spartacus returned with blood dripping from his nostrils after his lung-bursting effort to hold Commanche Court's whirlwind finish by a fast-diminishing three-quarters of a length. It was a case of class will out in the contest; the pair were the top-weights.

Young Spartacus, whose trainer Henry Daly was absent, saddling Island Mist to win at Haydock, was one of only five of the 15 who set out with a chance rounding the home turn. Struggles Glory, the 3-1 favourite, blew his chance with a mistake three out and came in fourth; Tremallt, who had led from flag-fall, was still marginally in front when he fell at the last.

Richard Johnston conjured a fine leap from Young Spartacus, taking him clear of Dark Stranger and giving him just enough of a start to keep Commanche Court at bay. "He gave me everything," said Johnston, "which is probably why he bled. He wasn't keeping anything back for himself."

Young Spartacus (neatly named; he is by Teenoso out of Celtic Slave) is entered in the Cathcart Cup and the Mildmay Of Flete Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, both handicaps. But the greater glory of the Gold Cup itself may be facing Irish raider Commanche Court, for which he is now12-1 fifth-choice in most bookmakers' lists.

"No excuses today," said trainer Ted Walsh, "he just didn't get going soon enough, but that was a decent run under top-weight. We won't make any decision about Cheltenham for a week or so."

There were plenty of prospective Cheltenham contenders on show yesterday, both here and at Haydock. But with the dread cloud of foot-and-mouth disease hanging over racing, all the practice may yet be for nothing.

Jump racing's links with the agricultural community are close, as perhaps exemplified by the protagonists in yesterday's feature chase. Struggles Glory, a former point-to-pointer, is trained on a farm and gallant, unlucky Tremallt is housed just three miles from a possible outbreak of the virulent disease in Stroud which, if confirmed, will confine him and his stablemates to quarters.

His trainer, Tom George, on the mark with Royal & Sun-Alliance Novices' Hurdle candidate Historic at Haydock, is stoical. "I haven't heard yet from any official one way or the other," he said, "I'm waiting for the telephone to ring. We're going through all the disinfecting procedures at our entrances but we won't be moving the horses out. The whole point is not to move livestock, so we just have to sit tight and wait."

There has not been a foot-and-mouth outbreak in Ireland for 60 years and Walsh, too, was philosophical. "All we can do is see what develops," he said. "If they close it down they close it down. There'll be no half-measures."

Country life is effectively on hold in this country, with point-to-points and hunt meets already cancelled. Tomorrow's meeting at Newcastle, within an affected area, is the firstto be lost to foot-and-mouth since Haydock on 6 January, 1968 brought racing's last nightmare to an end.

The Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham is going to be an all-French affair, it seems. Bilboa, trained by François Doumen, emulated the performance of her stablemate Snow Drop 12 months previously by strolling home in the Adonis Hurdle. Her display, though, was good enough only to maintain second place in the ante-post lists, behind her compatriot and Chepstow conqueror Jair Du Cochet.

The sport lost one of its most gallant campaginers yesterday when Young Kenny, winner of 11 of his 37 starts and a leading Grand National fancy, broke a hind leg during the De Vere Gold Cup at Haydock, a race won in impressive all-the-way style by the novice Frantic Tan.