Matt finish puts out Lamp

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The Independent Online
THERE was a poignant outcome to the Victor Chandler Chase here yesterday, won by Big Matt after a finely judged ride by Mick Fitzgerald. As the winner was being unsaddled, his trainer, Nick Henderson, dedicated the victory to Big Matt's former owner Richard Shaw, who died two months ago.

Shaw long believed there was a good race in the eight-year-old, who had finished third in the Mackeson Gold Cup in November, and yesterday's effort proved the point. He was flat to the boards for most of the two miles as Martin's Lamp set a tremendous gallop up front, but Fitzgerald did not get flustered. He stalked through the field to take second place off the home turn and was still two lengths down at the last, but found the better turn of foot on the run-in to get up for a famous victory.

Henderson said: "That one was for Richard. It was he who started the horse off, and he believed in him all the way. I thought Mick gave him a wonderful ride; the horse is tough, and jumps well, but he's still learning, and he's probably better over two and a half miles." With that view in mind, the gelding's Cheltenham target in March is likely to be the Mildmay of Flete Chase.

The pace set on the soft ground by Martin's Lamp, who was giving Big Matt 11lb, found out fancied runners like Egypt Mill Prince and Front Street.

Martin's Lamp's trainer, David Nicholson, found fine consolation when Hill Of Tullow confirmed himself the best staying novice in Britain by taking his unbeaten run over fences to three in the Peter Ross Novices' Chase. The seven-year-old, who overcame indifferent early jumping to get into contention on the turn for home, looked beaten when Go Ballistic, getting 7lb, cruised up to him at the last, but Nicholson had no doubts. He said: "I could see his ears were still flicking, and when they are I know there's still plenty left in the tank." Sure enough, Hill Of Tullow responded to Adrian Maguire's urgings to get up for a half-length victory, and will have one more run before the Sun Alliance Chase at Cheltenham.

On a day when the action was spread far and wide, the Jessica Harrington- trained mare Dance Beat foiled the joint-favourites Family Way and Derrymoyle when she took Europe's most valuable handicap hurdle, The Ladbroke, at Leopardstown. A 12-1 shot, she jumped past Destriero at the penultimate obstacle and held on bravely in the mud under Tony Powell to repel Family Way's late challenge. The best of the British challengers was the Andy Turnell-trained Squire Silk, who ran on well to take fourth place, just behind Derrymoyle, after being impeded by the fading Destriero.

It was a day of mixed luck for Richard Dunwoody. His mount in the Ladbroke, Simon Dow's Chief's Song, finished in the ruck after showing prominently until three out, and Dunwoody took a heavy fall in the Pierse Leopardstown Chase when the British-trained favourite Rough Quest crashed four fences from home. Terry Casey's Hennessy Gold Cup runner-up was still well in contention at the time; the race went to the dour stayer Royal Mountbrowne.

But earlier Dunwoody rode the former smart staying hurdler Treble Bob, beaten only when third in last year's Sun Alliance Hurdle, to a pleasing winning chasing debut in the Fitzpatricks Hotels Group Novices' Chase. The Dermot Weld-trained six-year-old jumped well throughout and showed admirable resolution to catch the long-time leader Minella Lad under hard driving on the run-in. He is likely to take on Hill Of Tullow in the Sun Alliance at the Festival.

At Newcastle, Peter Easterby, who hands over the reins of his mixed Great Habton yard to his son Tim next month, achieved a remarkable landmark at the end of his 46-year career. Dally Boy gave the 66-year-old Easterby his 1,000th jumping winner, making him the first British-based trainer to send out "a grand" both on the Flat and under NH rules.