Racing Commentary: Mogul leaves a power vacuum: The former Champion Hurdle favourite succumbs to a leg injury and the young generation offers little promise of a natural successor

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The Independent Online
DEATH and despondency at the weekend as Mighty Mogul succumbed to the injuries that removed him from the Champion Hurdle picture, while the flawed performances of other burgeoning hurdlers showed how badly he will be missed.

Mighty Mogul underwent corrective surgery on Friday evening after injury achieved something a racehorse could not do this season and caught up with him at Cheltenham last weekend.

The young chestnut appeared to have recovered from the knitting of his off foreleg by Saturday morning, but his condition soon deteriorated. 'Having successfully undergone surgery to pin the carpal joint on Friday, Mighty Mogul suffered a multiple fracture to the adjacent bone yesterday (Saturday) due to stress and was put down on humane grounds,' David Nicholson, the six-year-old's trainer, said yesterday.

Nicholson may now be represented in the Champion by another horse owned by Bill and Shirley Robins, Baydon Star. 'He's been entered for the race, but it all depends on the ground whether he runs,' the trainer said.

The stage for the lauding of a new Mighty Mogul, the Agfa Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday, was wreathed in disappointment. Morley Street further fostered the view that his is a decaying talent, while the young pretenders in Gran Alba, Valfinet and the continually frustrating Ruling failed to cope with the veteran Mole Board.

Morley Street's collapse was comprehensive yet incomprehensible with neither Richard Dunwoody, his rider, nor Jonothan Geake, assistant to trainer Toby Balding, able to muster a word of explanation between them. The gelding was dope-tested.

Further tests, on Balding's home laboratory set at Whitcombe Manor, will be taken today, in an effort to uncover a reason for defeat. None was available yesterday.

'Morley Street is not unsound and he seems absolutely fine,' Serena Geake, Balding's daughter, said. 'We don't know what's wrong with him yet, and we'll know more after we have a full look at him tomorrow.'

On the other hand, Martin Pipe had plenty of excuses to explain the eclipses of Valfinet and Rushing Wild, who lost his position in the Gold Cup market after faltering behind Country Member in the Agfa Diamond Chase.

'I was happy with the performance,' the champion trainer said. 'It was a three-horse race and he was attempting to give the winner one-and-a-half stone. The race was over only three miles and at Cheltenham it will be a different story. I am amazed that his odds for the big race are now 10-1.

'Rushing Wild appears to have taken the race well but I'll have to talk it over with the owner before deciding whether to give him another race before Cheltenham.'

Valfinet joined Granville Again as a tarnished talent in Pipe's care, though both are still due at Cheltenham for hurdling's crown. 'It was surprising to me that Valfinet got beaten,' the trainer said. 'But Sandown is probably not his course. He only just scrambled home there in December and probably won't be going again.'

Valfinet was rated roughly two stones inferior to Granville Again at the beginning of the season, but Pipe would not be drawn on which is the better now. 'You'll find out at Cheltenham,' he said.

In these withered surroundings, it was incongruous that an 11-year- old gelding and a trainer who has been in the clutch of the virus in recent seasons, should provide the fountainhead.

If Jim Old can maintain both his own resurgence and that of Mole Board, the little horse may yet fulfil the promise he showed us in the late 1980s.

'I've had him for four years now and I know him very well,' Old said yesterday. 'I've made a balls of it for long enough, but for the first time I've got him well, without a virus and the right ground to train him on. Everything has gone right.'

This last sentiment can hardly apply to Old's career. National Hunt's wunderkind of the early 1970s when he first took out a licence aged 25, Old has had to work in recent seasons with a string struck by a herpes virus long on letters and effect, rhinopneumonitis.

As the results went, so did the plaudits and then the horses. 'The whisperers were rampant,' he said. 'A lot of people left, but I've been fantastically lucky in that I've got a loyal bunch of people who have stayed with me.'

Old has 30 horses at the moment, from a nadir of about half that figure, and among them is Mole Board, whom the trainer compares favourably with Cima, his 1984 Champion Hurdle runner-up to Dawn Run.

'They're completely different in some ways and identical in others,' Old said. 'They're both box-walkers and cranky, a bit like their trainer really, nervous wrecks. And their best efforts are flat out races at Cheltenham over two miles in soft ground. A real man's race when it's about guts and glory.'

Mole Board's chance of glory on 16 March is as low as 10-1 with Coral, though one wager earlier this season has a ticket showing pounds 1,000 each-way at 100-1.

While victory for Mole Board would restore Old to the heights, the trainer is keen to point out that he has not fallen as far as some might imagine. Old will run a horse only when it has a reasonable chance, a policy substantiated by a profit to a pounds 1 stake of almost pounds 50 this season.

'We've been in the doldrums and all that, but the fact is that, unlike some people, mine tend to not bother going to the races when they don't feel very well,' he said. 'You're better off having them at home than running badly. That way if the owner leaves the horse with you, and doesn't get impatient, he'll win races eventually. Otherwise they just run badly all the time and no-one could accuse my horses of that. They just weren't there.

'In this game you can choose which way you want to die.' Not, though, if you are called Mighty Mogul.

(Photograph omitted)