Racing: Champion hurdler dies on the track

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The Independent Online
ROYAL GAIT, who proved himself the country's finest hurdler at the Cheltenham Festival in March, died at the finish of his first race since that victory, in Ireland yesterday.

The champion hurdler, the property of Britain's leading owner of Flat horses, Sheikh Mohammed, collapsed following the Bookmakers Hurdle at Leopardstown, the victim of a suspected heart attack.

'The horse wobbled just after passing the post,' Jim Lenehan, the assistant manager at the Sheikh's Kildangan Stud in Co. Kildare, said.

'Graham (McCourt, the jockey) thought he had broken down, but when he went to pull him up he fell from under him. He appears to have suffered a massive heart attack.'

Royal Gait, a nine-year-old, was trained for his hurdles successes by James Fanshawe, who is based in Newmarket. 'It's a devastating blow for the stable and the owner,' the trainer said yesterday. 'Royal Gait gave me the best day of my racing career at Cheltenham last March.'

The horse, however, had been transferred to Fanshawe only last season after making his name on the Flat.

Initially purchased in the unglamorous setting of Doncaster's Lincoln Handicap Sales for a relatively paltry 5,500 gns, Royal Gait established his reputation on the Continent, winning numerous races in Spain and France.

His greatest moment, which quickly became his worst, came on his first run in Britain, in the Ascot Gold Cup of 1988.

Royal Gait was first home by an extravagant margin, only to have the race harshly taken from him by the stewards for minor interference.

The horse's place in the history books was only in abeyance, however. On 10 March this year he beat 15 rivals at Cheltenham to become the first novice (first season) hurdler to capture the Champion Hurdle since Doorknocker in 1956, at the same time establishing himself as the oldest winner of the race since Sea Pigeon in 1981.

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