Lord Gyllene beaten but unbowed

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The Independent Online
Lord Gyllene lost yesterday's feature race and the second leg of a sporting bet by his owner, but retained his position as Grand National favourite. The big New-Zealand bred gelding, owned by the Uttoxeter chairman Stan Clarke, made a gallant effort under top-weight to lead all the way round three circuits of the Staffordshire track in the Marstons Pedigree- sponsored local version of the Aintree marathon, but it was Seven Towers who took the beer money.

Seven Towers, a progressive eight-year-old trained by Mary Reveley and, like Lord Gyllene, on a four-timer, is one of those horses who makes his jockey - in this case Peter Niven - earn his riding fee. But once this dour young stayer jumped into the lead three fences from home and lowered his long-eared head into attack mode, the result was not in doubt.

The seven-length winner, not entered at Aintree, has the Scottish National at Ayr as his target, where he may clash again with Sister Stephanie, whose late thrust missed the the runner-up spot by a short-head. Niven said: "He is hard work to ride, but he's a good horse, so I don't mind pushing for four miles or so."

Clarke stood to collect pounds 100,000 - which he planned to split between staff at Lord Gyllene's stable and the Injured Jockeys' Fund charity - if his horse, winner of the National Trial over the same course last month, had won the Midlands National and finished in the frame at Aintree.

He said: "That is the end of that little fairytale. But we still have the big one to look forward to, and if he is all right after this race he will definitely go for the National."

Lord Gyllene remains favourite for Aintree at around 10-1, with the Gold Cup fourth, Go Ballistic, second choice at 12-1 alongside the classy mudlark Suny Bay.

And for those punters for whom Cheltenham was not enough of a drubbing, the market for the first leg of the Spring double, the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on Saturday, is taking shape. Alamein, Kuala Lipis and New Century are the 12-1 cofavourites.

The first flutterings of the nascent Flat season were also felt in France yesterday, where the Ellie Lellouche-trained Nero Zilzal took the traditional opening to the Pattern programme, the Group 3 Prix Exbury at Saint-Cloud.

Further afield, his vastly superior stablemate Helissio and other contenders for the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup on Saturday week, had their preparation disrupted after the Nad El Sheba track was rendered unworkable by unseasonal heavy rain.

The sad news from Ireland yesterday was that the high-class two-mile chaser Sound Man has been put down after suffering an inoperable tendon injury. Trained by Eddie O'Grady, Sound Man won 15 of his 31 races, including two Tingle Creek Chases.