Imperial Call sweeps to victory



reports from Cheltenham

They found a hero here yesterday, but a false God was exposed. This Gold Cup would have become known as the race One Man lost had it not been for a staggering performance from the brilliant young Irish horse, Imperial Call.

While Gordon Richards' grey was led away from the contest battered and exhausted, Imperial Call returned to the sort of reception that moves buildings, an appreciation from people who knew they had seen something special.

In the middle of the throng which celebrated with the Cork anthem, "The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee", was the man who had plotted this victory, Fergus Carr Sutherland (who is better known as just plain old Fergie). Scots-born but now honorary Irish, the trainer had waited for 64 years for this, the greatest day of his life, to arrive.

Fergie struggled for words, but there was pleasure in a face that looks as though it has been in collision with raw weather and plenty of optics. A more serious contact in Sutherland's life came when he was a lieutenant in the 5th Dragoon Guards serving in the Korean War. He lost his left leg when stepping on a landmine, an injury which did not stop him from hunting with the Muskerry pack until very recently.

"He put them in their place didn't he," the trainer said. "I've thought this horse could win a Gold Cup since he was five and he has improved every day this year."

Imperial Call was handled masterfully by the Wexford-born jockey, 29- year-old Conor O'Dwyer. "Conor rode a copybook race," Sutherland said. "He kept him wide, got him jumping, kicked on and then let the horse's class do the rest."

O'Dwyer had just one moment of concern, when Richard Dunwoody and One Man arrived at his girths at the third last. "I was a bit worried," he said. "I knew I had plenty of horse under me but I didn't know how much Richard had left."

The answer to that became apparent moments later. "He [One Man] jumped well and travelled well, but about 20 strides before the second last he just emptied on me," Dunwoody reported. "If I hadn't been in third I probably would have pulled him up at the last. He might not have stayed."

Gordon Richards, One Man's trainer, was so perplexed that he sent his grey for a dope test. "The thing is that he went out like a light," Richards said. "It wasn't that he had no stamina because he didn't even get three miles today. The horse just hasn't given a true run and I think there must be something to blame."

As the favourite faded to finish sixth of the seven finishers, Rough Quest, who is now 6-1 favourite for the Grand National with Ladbrokes, and Couldnt Be Better ran into the places.

They were largely ignored, however, as Imperial Call was swamped by spectators, many of them waving small Irish tricolours Don King-style. A huge banner to the winner was unfurled, hats filled the air and then O'Dwyer joined them as he was bounced skywards in celebration.