Racing: Barton crowns Maguire's irresistible rise: The will to win earns the highest accolade for the leading rider of this or possibly any other season, but at the cost of a suspension

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The Independent Online
THERE ARE some who believe that jockeys are little more than a minor complement to racehorses, but they found little to sustain that view here yesterday as Adrian Maguire earned a lavish compliment for his victory in the King George VI Chase on Barton Bank. David Nicholson, the winning trainer, felt this performance crowned the 22-year-old's emergence as the best rider since the War.

'I've been in racing since 1945 and he's the best I've seen,' Nicholson said. 'That's not an accolade, that's the truth.'

Even though this decoration is unprovable, it is difficult to imagine a man more possessed than Maguire yesterday as he dragged Barton Bank home up the Sunbury straight.

At the final obstacle his chance looked slim as Declan Murphy and Bradbury Star arrived on the scene with reserves to burn. But then came the Maguire bounce, the movement reminiscent of his fellow Irishman Pat Eddery on the Flat, which sees rapid propulsion out of the saddle; like a man repeatedly getting out of a chair at speed.

It works for Eddery and yesterday it worked most gloriously for Maguire as he broke the line a head to the good, his hand forming an immediate fist when he knew success was his.

In the furious finish which adorned this race, both jockeys entralled the crowd more than the stewards and were banned for two days for overuse of the whip.

The King George had been billed as an event in which three tearaway outriders - Barton Bank, Rolling Ball and Young Hustler - would set up a spectacular contest from the front. For once, reality did not disappoint.

Young Hustler led for much of the first circuit, but even he could not keep up when his fellow pacesetters depressed the accelerator. The effort also proved too much for Rolling Ball, while, in behind, Travado slithered to the ground, again dirtying Jamie Osborne's uniform after his fall in the previous race. Further back, the strain was also showing on Black Humour and he was pulled up in the latter stages, with a broken blood vessel.

In the straight, Barton Bank was maintaining his momentum as The Fellow, the French challenger on a hat-trick in the race, and Bradbury Star, loomed. The Fellow dropped away into third after taking the last obstacle awkwardly, but the realisation that Bradbury Star was beaten did not occur to his partner until the last, desperate yards of the three-mile contest.

'I thought I was going to win all the way round,' Murphy said. 'But I just got outstayed from the last. The horse has never run a better race in his life.'

Maguire had seen all the challenges coming, but knew his companion was not spent. 'I slowed up twice before we came out of the back and once we came off the bend I said right let's go,' he reported. 'I didn't want to give him a smack round the backside before I went to the last, in case I put him on the floor.

'My horse just keeps drawing them out and sticking his head down.'

As Maguire and Nicholson returned to unsaddle hand in hand, a fatherly touch the trainer continued as he placed his palm on the jockey's shoulder throughout the post-race interviews, it was in the knowledge that this was the rider's 100th winner of the season and a first King George for 'the Duke'. Statistics, though, took a poor second place to the style of victory.

'I'm just very elated,' Nicholson said, before dropping into the competitive plural much favoured by trainers. 'We're inclined to make the odd mistake, but we travelled well and did everything right.

'I was lucky enough to win a Gold Cup with Charter Party (in 1988) but this horse actually means a bit more to me because he has his ups and downs. He's a very precious horse who isn't easy to train because he doesn't stand much work. To have got it right on the day is very satisfying.'

Barton Bank's fragility is such that he may now go straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup without another run. 'He's won round there and I'm looking forward to it,' Nicholson added. 'We're in a nice position now.'

The gelding's position in the betting markets for the Festival has moved with most firms, but Sporting Index have left him on his pre-race mark and he remains the largest price, at 8-1, with them. Ladbrokes have taken the opposite view and make him the 5-1 second favourite (from 10-1) behind Jodami at 7-2. They have also cut Bradbury Star to 7-1 from 16-1.

Among those connected with the vanquished yesterday there was much straw-clutching as they tried to look for ways past Barton Bank. Francois Doumen, The Fellow's trainer, thought his animal did not have much luck in running, Nigel Twiston-Davies, the man behind fourth home Young Hustler, considered his horse would be better at Cheltenham, while Murphy believes Barton Bank could succumb to his occasionally erratic fencing at Prestbury Park.

But Maguire would have none of that. 'It looks a lot worse than it feels in the saddle,' he said. And at Kempton yesterday Adrian Maguire looked, for some, as good as any National Hunt jockey in living memory.

(Photograph omitted)