Racing: Antonin hailed as Oats fails

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The Independent Online
Sue Bramall experienced one of the more satisfying aspects of being a racehorse trainer yesterday after saddling Antonin to win Punchestown's Grand National trial by a distance. As a throng of impressed bookmakers scribbled down ante-post odds as low as 14-1 against Antonin's name for the Aintree marathon, Bramall was able to stand back and savour the moment. "We backed him at 50-1 yesterday for Liverpool," she said, "and if he gets good ground he should have an outstanding chance."

Across the course, Kim Bailey was delivering the sort of speech with which rather more trainers are familiar. It was one of disbelief and disappointment as Master Oats, his Cheltenham Gold Cup winner of 1995, trotted up the track and possibly into retirement. He had been pulled up before the third last fence as Antonin flew for home.

Backed down to 7-4 favourite, Master Oats had tried to concede two stones to Antonin and had managed to close in with what had seemed a strong challenge six fences out.

From that point, though, Master Oats steadily dropped away, and Bailey later said: "Norman [Williamson, his rider] says it wasn't fitness or lack of ability that saw him struggle - he hadn't the heart for it in that ground.

"There's a possibility now he could be retired. In those conditions, he should have come home on the bridle and although he lost a shoe I would have expected him to do so much better in the soft ground he always relished."

Williamson later added: "Master Oats just didn't have the gears. The old Master Oats would have annihilated them in the mud."

Instead, it was Antonin who slaughtered the opposition. Passing the post with his ears pricked, a distance ahead of King Of The Gales, Antonin will not have another run before Aintree according to Bramall, who trained in Yorkshire before moving her horses to Wexford last summer.

Before Aintree comes Cheltenham - three weeks from tomorrow in fact - and there were plenty of clues for that Festival at Punchestown yesterday and in Britain on Saturday.

Williamson, who had recorded a treble at Warwick on Saturday, was again among the winners yesterday, partnering Commanche Court to victory in the juvenile hurdle for the trainer and commentator Ted Walsh.

Commanche Court, a 4-6 favourite, went clear in the straight and showed enough for Williamson to give a commitment to partner Walsh's colt in the Triumph Hurdle and for William Hill and Coral to cut the horse to 8-1 from 14-1 and 12-1 respectively for Cheltenham.

Josh Gifford spent much of yesterday contemplating whether to send his unbeaten novice hurdler Boardroom Shuffle, so impressive at Chepstow on Saturday, for the Champion Hurdle rather than a novice event at the Festival.

"At the moment the owner and I are favouring the Champion Hurdle, for the simple reason that there will not be as many runners," Gifford said. "You could have a 10 or 12-runner field for the Champion and about 30 for the novice hurdle."