Mr Mulligan proves to be the real McCoy: Racing

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It was not exactly an Irish winner, but for the hordes that have spilled over the water to Gloucestershire this week it was the next best thing. The Irish-bred Mr Mulligan captured the Gold Cup yesterday for the Ulster partnership of jockey Tony McCoy and trainer Noel Chance. The huge horse may be billeted in Lambourn, but the roar he received on his return was from folk who thought of him as one of their own.

Mr Mulligan, it has to be said, is no oil painting, rather something a child might produce on the kitchen table with crayon. When he was first brought to the attention of his owner Michael Worcester, it was suggested he did not check out the horse too carefully. "Louise Cooper, who is a spotter for us, told me to buy him," Worcester related yesterday. "But she warned me not to look at him or I would hate the horse. I just wrote out a cheque for pounds 18,000.

"He isn't a picture and when Noel saw him he was disappointed at this great orange thing with white spots."

Pretty is as pretty does, however, and Mr Mulligan was just about the best novice chaser last year until he whacked one fence too many at this meeting 12 months ago. This season he was destined for second place in the King George VI Chase at Kempton before landing on his nose at the ultimate barrier. Since that day his trainer has always had one eye on the clock. A haematoma the size of a grapefruit in the horse's back proved difficult to treat. "I never thought we'd miss this race but it got a bit uncomfortable," Chance said.

There was little agreeable, either, about the gelding's final piece of work at Newbury 10 days ago. Mr Mulligan performed like the beasts once employed by United Dairies. "We sent him over two miles and he was so bad I promise you that if he had run in the bumper here he would have finished two furlongs behind," McCoy said. "But after that I schooled him over eight fences at Lambourn and he went quicker than at any stage at Newbury. I was much happier."

Nevertheless, the binoculars were largely trained elsewhere when Mr Mulligan entered the parade ring yesterday. Barton Bank, the old soldier, carried neck markings that lend him the appearance of a spotty adolescent, while the diminutive Dorans Pride tip-toed around as if the tarmac had been mined. Mr Mulligan, a chestnut and fawn creature, reminded of a horse tied up to a rail outside the cowboy saloon. Then, as the field filed out, came a telling gesture. "He shook his head violently," Chance said. "And he only does that when he's feeling on very good terms with himself."

The 20-1 shot had others shaking their heads when he collided with a fence, but that was the wake-up call. "When I gave him a little smack he warmed up and I knew when I let him stride on that he was warming to his task," McCoy said.

Other riders had less encouraging messages. Conor O'Dwyer had to pull up Imperial Call after the gelding that collected this crown 12 months ago behaved like an impostor and a similar fate befell Danoli. Coome Hill was run off his feet and One Man all but collapsed in the straight. Up front, the orange thing with spots put nine lengths between him and his nearest pursuer.

For McCoy it was the climax of an outstanding Festival, following his successes in the Arkle Chase and Champion Hurdle on Tuesday. The man from Co Antrim was a Flat jockey until he could not do his trousers up and has already climbed many of National Hunt racing's towers by the age of 22.

Noel Chance's career has been less meteoric. It took him 20 years to train 100 winners in his homeland before the ice-cream man cometh. Michael Worcester, whose company manufactures ice-cream cones, installed him as a private trainer in Lambourn two years ago. Chance's yard has an admirably realistic name for the speculative business of horseracing. They call it Folly House.

Chance has swiftly made himself a popular addition to the echelon of trainers in the valley of the racehorse. He is a modest figure who delights in his role as a family man, and about his only extravagance is a tumbler of whiskey in the Queen's Arms at East Garston.

As he stood on the pinnacle yesterday it must have seemed a long way down to the place where Chance started on his trek as a toiling small trainer on the Curragh. "I've struggled for years training in Ireland and I now know there is light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "There is a God."

Cheltenham reports, page 25

3.15: Cheltenham Gold Cup (3m 2f 110yds)

1. MR MULLIGAN A P McCoy 20-1

2. Barton Bank D Walsh 33-1

3. Dorans Pride J P Broderick 10-1

Also ran: 4-1 fav Imperial Call (pulled up), 7-1 Danoli (fell), 7-1 One Man (6th), 15-2 Coome Hill (7th), 8-1 Dublin Flyer (pulled up), 12-1 Cyborgo (8th), 16-1 Challenger Du Luc (5th), Unguided Missile (fell), 20-1 Nahthen Lad (pulled up), 33-1 Banjo (pulled up), 50-1 Go Ballistic (4th).

14 ran. 9, 1/2, 6, 3, 16. (Winner trained by Noel T Chance at Lambourn). Tote: pounds 21.50; pounds 4.30, pounds 5.60, pounds 4.10. DF: pounds 296.50. CSF: pounds 448.05. Trio: pounds 1,823.40. NR: Addington Boy.