Master's golden key

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The Independent Online
Master Oats came through his Gold Cup dress rehearsal here yesterday with flying colours. The nine-year-old, who disposed of his rivals by 15 lengths with a wholly authoritative display of jumping and galloping on heavy ground, is now a top-priced 3-1 favourite, with Ladbrokes, to land the staying chasers' crown when he returns here in March.

The Pillar Property Investment Chase had been billed as a match between Master Oats and Barton Bank, and they were the two who shadowed Young Hustler going out into the country on the second circuit.

Norman Williamson sent Master Oats past the leader with a mighty leap at the final open ditch, six fences from home, but Barton Bank, on a mission to retrieve his reputation after two successive falls, did his cause no good with a blunder at the next fence.

From there, Master Oats went steadily clear and, from the home turn, it was clear that, bar a fall, the only battle was going to be for second place.

It was the mare Dubacilla who won that, coming through after being out-paced early to deprive her stable-mate Barton Bank by three and a half lengths.

Both are still on course for the Gold Cup. Young Hustler, third in last year's running of the big race, faded into fourth with the French challenger Arenice, who was just behind him, the last of the five finishers.

Master Oats will not appear in public again until the Gold Cup. His trainer, Kim Bailey, said: "I wanted to see if he could cope with the undulations here, and he seems to have shown that he can.

"He has been running over longer distances and has become a bit lazy, and Norman said that he had to get quite serious with him after he made a bit of a mistake at the water. This race will have sharpened him up."

The Paul Matthews-owned, big, plain, chestnut horse is lightly raced for his years, yesterday's win (all bar his first two on soft or heavy ground) being his ninth from only 14 races.

He follows an unusual regime at his yard - thanks to Master Oats' propensity for breaking blood vessels Bailey adopts a softly-softly approach. In fact, Master Oats only canters at home. The trainer said "The only time he gallops is in races, and all credit to his lad Sean Ellis, who takes him out for exercise twice a day."

Williamson was delighted with Master Oats' jumping, which has improved enormously since a course of lessons with the show-jumping guru Yogi Breisner. The Hereford-based Williamson said: "He was virtually foot-perfect today. He only has one gear, but his gallop stride is very impressive and he can keep it going."

Williamson was the man to follow yesterday with a storming treble, which was initiated by Fourth In Line in the opening Racegoers Club Novices' Handicap Hurdle. Half an hour after Master Oats' triumph, the jockey drove Mudahim to an all-the- way victory in the Cleeve Hurdle, taking a flyer from the starting gate and giving the Chris Broad-trained nine-year-old, who has the Stayers' Hurdle as his Cheltenham Festival target in March, a breather down the hill before kicking clear again to beat Atours five lengths.

The reigning Champion Hurdler, Flakey Dove, faded in the closing stages to finish a tired fifth.