Make A Stand's season had begun innocuously enough in Warwickshire in October, but a clue to his future success came in the manner of victory. He ran so purposefully from the front that it was easy to imagine the abattoir wagon was behind him.
Further handicap wins were gathered in similar manner, but when the gelding arrived for combat yesterday there were plenty willing to venture that neither Cheltenham nor the Champion Hurdle was suitable for front-runners.
An additional caveat was that Make A Stand was still a novice who had never before attempted an assignment as stiff as this. They said similar things about Sherpa Tenzing when he set out with his packed lunch one day.
The diminutive chestnut with a white-splashed face looked like the regimental mascot in the parade ring among his more brutish opponents. Elsewhere, Collier Bay, the champion, was nodding along like a chicken at the trot, while Large Action circled with a catwalk sway, his head lowered as if searching for change. The two seasoned and fancied horses were soon picking up the pieces.
Large Action was the first to go, pulled up after two flights when Jamie Osborne detected there was a defect in the chassis beneath him. Collier Bay resented ground firmer than he prefers and was brought to a halt by Graham Bradley after three flights out.
By that time Make A Stand had been skipping away in front for some time, with all the concern of a member of Bo Peep's flock. At the top of the hill, McCoy gave his conveyance time to fill the lungs and then started his dash for home in earnest.
It was hard to believe this was the same horse who had been gelded as a three-year-old because he had become so mulish. Connections - and the gelding had lost his most precious ones - were surprised that their charge took some time to recover, but others may be of the opinion that lopping off of the testicles is a manoeuvre that might smart a little bit.
Fifty yards from home McCoy leant back to administer a stroke of the whip but swiftly realised it would not be needed. The sticks were up behind him as if the Bengal Lancers were in pursuit. The Irishman turned his movement into a flourish of jubilation and surged forward for a five-length success, breaking the course record which Shadow Leader had set just 75 minutes earlier by 1.1 seconds.
Behind were the Irish pairing of Theatreworld and Space Trucker, and the rider of the runner-up later reported on the task the pack had been facing. Norman Williamson said: "He [Make A Stand] is a true champion. He just annihilates you with his speed.
"You always hope he'll stop. Even today, after the last, I thought he might, and you can get within six lengths of him, but the effort ends your chance. Whether you take him on early or late it's the same problem, he cooks you."
McCoy's debriefing suggested he had been almost incidental to the partnership. He said: "It's the greatest feeling when a horse makes all the running like that. He measures every hurdle up himself. You just have to give him a little bit of rein and go down and squeeze him. At the last flight down the back he came up so far out he almost left me behind."
The little horse was led in by the little man, and Martin Pipe seemed to forget for a moment that he is in possession of a limp. The trainer, who also won with Or Royal, described it as "a great day" and only the iron hearts could begrudge him it as he had lost two horses on the corresponding card 12 months previously.
n The crowd at Cheltenham was 41,224, an increase of 2,049 on the corresponding figure 12 months ago.
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