Man enough but Mr Mulligan attracts all the sound-bites

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The Independent Online
As expected, an extravagant chaser trained by an Irishman brilliantly posted his Cheltenham credentials here yesterday. Sound Man won the Comet Chase, but an animal that would fit the same description turned in the performance of the afternoon.

Mr Mulligan was such a facile winner of the Reynoldstown Chase that he has not only shrunk to as short as 6-4 with Coral for the Sun Alliance Chase, but Ladbrokes also made him a 14-1 shot for next season's Gold Cup.

No horse has won the Sun Alliance after yesterday's event since Killiney in 1973, but there were few around yesterday mumbling the word jinx following Mr Mulligan's display. The chestnut wrestled the advantage from the start and jumped swiftly, if a little low, as exhaustion captured his pursuers one by one. At the line he was 15 lengths clear in the hands of Richard Johnson.

Behind him were the best set of novice chasers assembled this season, including St Mellion Fairway, who, until yesterday, had been a consideration for the Gold Cup. No longer. He fell two out. "Because he was so bloody tired," David Nicholson, the gelding's trainer, said.

If Mr Mulligan does win at the Festival it will be an occasion to place the palms over the ears. The eight-year-old is trained not only by an Irishman, but also a good humoured chap by the name of Noel Chance.

Small Irish trainers on the path to the Festival inevitably have a chest of charming anecdotes on which to draw. Chance is no different. He admits that at times his survival as a trainer has depended on contributions from the float of the newsagents belonging to his wife, Mary.

The Dubliner arrived in Lambourn at the beginning of this season backed by an owner who had fared better than the water companies in last year's steamy summer. Michael Worcester's business managed to get rid of 90 million ice-cream cones and he has supplied Chance with all but two of his 14- strong string.

This will be Chance's second runner at the Festival and he recognises he has better prospects than with the first, Knox's Corner in the hunter chase. "Some trainers say they know they're not going to win after two fences but I knew we'd lost at 8.30 that morning," he said. "We walked the course and the jockey looked at the ditch and said 'bloody hell that's big'."

Mr Mulligan will now retire to the chaise longue before his hardest venture. "His next gallop will be the Sun Alliance Chase," Chance said.

Sound Man will now also be put away, for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, after his authoritative display. The eight-year-old lobbed around for much of the race (aptly enough as he is part-owned by David Lloyd), before drawing away in the straight. His task was simplified though when Coulton capsized down the far side, standing off so far at the 12th that he barely reached the fence.

"It was a little bloodless, but Richard [Dunwoody] said the horse felt quieter than he did at Sandown and so there may be sharpness to come before Cheltenham," Edward O'Grady, the winning trainer, said. "He's stronger this year, he's jumping better and he's more confident."

Coulton's fall put yet another leading jockey in hospital. Jamie Osborne was carried from the course with concussion and has been stood down for 21 days, which means Graham Bradley will now partner Alderbrook in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton next Thursday. Any candlelit supper the jockey had planned would have had to be switched to a ward of Wexham Park Hospital.

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