reports from Cheltenham
It finished as it had started, with three in the air together over the last, but this time the burst of speed and courage which carried Viking Flagship to victory in his first Champion Chase two years ago came up short. In 1994, he had edged out Travado and Deep Sensation in one of the finest finishes ever seen at Cheltenham, but now the baton has passed to the emerging generation of chasers from Ireland.
That a third success in this race might take him 12 months too far was never in doubt, not least among the thousands of visiting punters who backed Sound Man down to favourite. They had the right idea, but the wrong horse.
After a thrilling contest between Viking Flagship and Sound Man over the last three fences, it was Klairon Davis, a 9-1 chance trained by Arthur Moore, who had the most left to give on the climb to the line.
With the crystal clarity of hindsight, 9-1 was a remarkably generous price about a horse who had won the Arkle Trophy last year, beating Sound Man in the process. Their paths had diverged since the 1995 Festival, however, with Sound Man putting together an impressive sequence of victories while Klairon Davis had managed only one victory -and two completions -in four outings this year. When the evenings start to lengthen, though, Klairon Davis starts to run for his life.
"Klairon Davis is a spring horse and the forgotten horse," Francis Woods, his jockey, said. "He missed the ditch out and I gave him time after that. He is as tough as anything and it was pure class up the hill."
Those behind too could only admire the winner. "When he landed in the ditch I thought it was the end of him," Charlie Swan, Viking Flagship's rider, said. "I had no answer when he came late."
The defeat of Sound Man, who made too many mistakes to summon up a serious challenge after the last, was just the latest misery for punters who had yet to see a favourite in the winner's enclosure.
The Irish, though, did at least enjoy Urubande's success -the first in Britain for his trainer Aidan O'Brien -in the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle. Within 70 minutes, though, much of the money had been handed back, when a gamble on Time For A Run, owned by J P McManus, came badly unstuck in the Coral Cup.
The winner was Trainglot, who survived a stewards' enquiry after a pitched battle up the run-in with Treasure Again and New Co, but the officials took a firmer view about O'Brien's declaration of Hotel Minella, a Champion Hurdle also-ran, for this event.
As expected, Hotel Minella was declared a non-runner yesterday morning, leaving the handicap squashed almost flat. After interviewing O'Brien, the stewards referred the matter to the Jockey Club, under rules which include such forceful phrases as "wilful disregard of the interest of racegoers" and "reprehensible motive".
O'Brien was just one of four Irish trainers in the top enclosure yesterday, with Eddie O'Grady's Loving Around taking the National Hunt Chase and Willie Mullins's Wither or Which winning the bumper. Perhaps the finest performance of the day, though, was offered in defeat. Mr Mulligan, the front-running favourite for the Sun Alliance Novices' Chase, crashed through the first and lost at least a dozen lengths.
Somehow, he hauled himself back into contention, hitting the front once again seven from home, but too exhausted after the last to resist the challenge of Nahthen Lad. They say no one remembers who comes second, but Mr Mulligan's bravery will not be soon forgotten.Reuse content