Master disaster as Viking flags

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The Independent Online
THE loudest noise on Britain's racecourses yesterday was the sound of crowns hitting the dirt. The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Master Oats, was pulled up in a three-horse contest at Chepstow, and the two-mile champion, Viking Flagship, trailed in fourth of five at Sandown Park.

Master Oats' eclipse in the Rehearsal Chase was as sudden as it was unexpected. As he turned into the straight, upsides Grange Brake, the big chestnut went from cruise to stutter in a matter of strides. And, for a horse with a history of breaking blood-vessels, the signs were ominous. Plans for Master Oats, who was dope tested after the race, are on hold; his trainer Kim Bailey, at Sandown to supervise his novice Simple Arithmetic's chasing debut, said: "We'll know more over the next couple of days, but there must be a possibility that he bled. But I couldn't have been happier with his preparation."

Bookmaker reaction was to remove Master Oats from the King George VI Chase betting and depose him from Gold Cup favouritism. Ladbrokes go 7- 1 for Cheltenham, and quote Flashing Steel, a seven-length winner at Fairyhouse yesterday, at 14-1.

It was Richard Dunwoody's day at Sandown. He notched a four-timer on Hill Of Tullow, Sound Man, Certainly Strong and Chief's Song. Pride of place went to Sound Man in the Tingle Creek Chase. He attacked the tricky Esher fences with all the elan of the star of the Seventies, after which the race is named.

The Eddie O'Grady-trained seven-year-old, who came home five lengths clear of Storm Alert, will skip the Christmas programme and have one more race, as yet undecided, before the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Dunwoody said: "He took my breath away with his jumping. I asked him some big questions, and he had so much scope and was so quick in the air. Eddie said the three railway fences were like the lights on the Naas road into Dublin - and we met them all on green."

Viking Flagship showed none of his usual sparkle and was under pressure a long way out, but his trainer, David Nicholson, said the eight-year- old remains on course for the prestigious Castleford Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

If any display was needed of Dunwoody's horsemanship, it came with his victory on Hill Of Tullow in the Ewell Chase. He picked the six-year-old up off the floor after a ghastly blunder five out, allowed him time to settle into a rhythm again, and led at the last to master Camitrov.

Certainly Strong, like Hill Of Tullow trained by Nicholson, took her place among the leading novices by beating Captain Khedive, but Dunwoody had to work hardest on Chief's Song, narrow winner of the William Hill Handicap Hurdle. On this occasion his efforts incurred the wrath of the stewards, who gave him a two-day ban (11-12 December) for whip misuse.

At Wolverhampton, before the start of what was both the day's most valuable race and the first all-weather Listed event, the Bass Wulfrun Stakes, Ray Cochrane had to be stretchered off to hospital for foot X-rays after Nijo panicked and scrambled under the gate of his stall. The race was won by Prince Of Andros.

Racing results, page 27