Racing / Cheltenham Festival: Champion chase for deep thinker

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KATABATIC beat Waterloo Boy in the Queen Mother Champion Chase here yesterday, but afterwards the enclosures were still ankle-deep in losing tickets. The anticipated close finish between those old adversaries did not materialise, and Katabatic finished only third behind Deep Sensation and Cyphrate. Waterloo Boy was done for before the home turn.

They were far from being the only contestants found wanting on a day when the fast ground took a heavy toll. Three horses, Ashfold Copse, Emily's Star and Milford Quay, were destroyed and Carl Llewellyn, who broke his collar-bone, was one of several jockeys who took crunching falls.

The result of the Champion Chase will have pleased few bar the bookmakers, but it was hard to complain about the finish. As Deep Sensation and Declan Murphy jumped past Cyphrate at the last it seemed that he might win as he liked, but Cyphrate showed the resilience expected of a Martin Pipe runner and tried to rally on the inside rail. Deep Sensation's stomach for a fight had been questioned after a recent defeat at Wetherby, but he responded bravely to win, all out, by three parts of a length.

'He battled on today, he didn't have time to stop and think about it as he did at Wetherby,' Josh Gifford, his trainer, said, implicity admitting that his horse is prone to 'thinking'. This admirable quality in humans is unfortunate in horses, who find it hard to think and gallop at the same time.

'He is very intelligent,' Murphy said of his first Festival winner. 'I knew from the top of the hill that Katabatic was beat. This is the greatest moment of my career.'

Andy Turnell, Katabatic's trainer, clearly fears that the former champion is in decline. 'The old get older and the young get better,' he said. 'I don't think he has shown the same sparkle lately but you can't go on for ever.' David Nicholson, who saddled Waterloo Boy, was mystified by his performance. 'He's run in 40 races and this is the first time he's run a bad one,' he said.

Peter Scudamore's vigorous efforts went unrewarded on Cyphrate, but the champion jockey had already completed a double on Olympian, for Martin Pipe, and Young Hustler. The former was winning for the second time in five days, and earned a pounds 50,000 bonus from the sponsors of Saturday's Imperial Cup for having added a Festival prize to that win.

That incentive was incidental, as Pipe, never one to give a fit horse a rest, had always planned to contest both races. Olympian is another example of a disenchanted horse whose enthusiasm has been rekindled by the transfer to Pipe's care.

Olympian won from the front and so was clear of trouble when three runners came down at the third-last. This was where Llewellyn, on Andrew's First, suffered his injury, and Mark Dwyer was also badly winded as he came off Fox Chapel, though he recovered in time to ride in the last.

It was not one of his better days. Dwyer, beaten on Sybillin in Tuesday's Arkle Trophy, had earlier been forced to pull up Jimmy FitzGerald's Trainglot before half-way in the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle. FitzGerald reported that both Trainglot and Sybillin had returned disappointing blood tests early in the week, and the trainer has scratched Gold Options from today's Gold Cup for the same reason. What the stewards did not ask, and many punters have a right to, is why either horse was running at all.

The winner here was Gaelstrom, who was headed by the favourite, Lord Relic, at the last flight but showed remarkable determination to gallop past him again on the hill and win going away. The memory of the winning ride will be of some comfort to Llewellyn, whose 53rd winner of the season equalled his best total.

Gaelstrom's trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, missed the celebrations to saddle Young Hustler for the Sun Alliance Chase. He was simply postponing his moment of glory, as Young Hustler too was victorious.

Even he, though, had reason to reflect on the day with mixed emotions. He will no doubt do so again this morning when he passes the box which used to house Emily's Star.

The second-day attendance was up by 449 on 12 months ago to 34,017.

Today's other cards, page 38