Racing: Ask Tom has all the answers

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There can be a fine line between arrogance and confidence in sportsmen, but when the subject is equine, rather than human, there is no danger of any unpleasant mouthiness. Here yesterday, just one look at Ask Tom in the paddock before he went out to win the Tingle Creek Trophy Chase was all it took to know he was ready to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. The swagger in the step before the bout said it all.

His demeanour was in sharp contrast to that at Exeter a month previously, when he displayed the fretfulness of a caged tiger and compounded in the race like a pampered pussycat. His Yorkshire-based trainer Tom Tate put that down to the overnight stay in Devon, saying: "He never ate or drank a thing and ran his race in his box during the night before. But for this one we came down in the morning, and I knew he would be able to give his best when I saw him marching round like Muhammad Ali."

For all the comparisons that Ask Tom's huge mahogany-bay frame and lightness of step invite with the great former world heavyweight champion, it was Viking Flagship, that doughty streetfighter, who almost snatched the spoils.

Russ Garrity sent Ask Tom to the front at the second fence in the two- mile contest, and some truly extravagant jumping over the testing line of obstacles in the back straight had him clear as the turn back towards the stands began to unwind.

After Mulligan took a horrible fall - and sent Adrian Maguire to hospital to have damage to a wrist investigated - it was left to his evergreen stablemate Viking Flagship to defend the honour of Jackdaw's Castle.

Right honourably the gallant 10-year-old tried, and reduced Ask Tom's lead to a head after a stirring struggle up the Esher hill, but the big horse replied in kind to hold on to the Grade One prize. Russ Garrity likens being in Ask Tom's saddle to sitting in a centre aisle seat in a jumbo jet than riding a member of the genus lepidoptera.

"He is so big that his jumping seems effortless," he said. "And on the run-in he almost started to pull up when he heard the cheering."

As far as Tate is concerned, Garrity is in pole position. The trainer said: "The horse's confidence in his jumping is frightening, and undoubtedly the best place to be is on his back. It can be terrifying watching him from the ground. But he is a wonderful horse to be associated with."

Ask Tom, owned by Brian Stewart-Brown, should have no problems with homesickness on his next awayday, to his local course Wetherby for the Castleford Chase on Christmas Saturday. He may well cross swords there with Viking Flagship - who was accorded as big a cheer into the unsaddling enclosure yesterday as his conqueror - before the bigger showdown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

The former two-mile champion chaser Klairon Davis jumped poorly in fourth place in the Tingle Creek, but there was some compensation for his trainer Arthur Moore half an hour later in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle, when Major Jamie and the amateur rider Ruby Walsh survived a stewards' inquiry to take the day's most valuable prize back to Ireland.

On testing ground it was a battle between three tired horses after the last flight, and Major Jamie, who started at 25-1 but nevertheless landed a few decent bets, gave the apprentice-ridden runner-up Nahrawali a hefty bump as Alabang began to fade. But Walsh, riding his first winner in England, had his stick in the correct right hand and appeared to be making every effort, if unstylishly, to keep his mount straight.

At Chepstow, See More Business earned a quote of 20-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup from Coral after taking the Rehearsal Limited Handicap Chase. The classy gelding, who had chased home Suny Bay, the subsequent Hennessy winner, at Haydock on his previous outing, was given a well-judged ride by Timmy Murphy, taking over from Indian Tracker two out to win by four lengths after patiently stalking the field for most of the race. If the ground is soft, See More Business may turn out in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.