Racing: Dunwoody pushes his Luc

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The old firm of Martin Pipe and Richard Dunwoody joined forces again to win a thrilling, incident-packed Murphy's Gold Cup here yesterday. And in getting the well-backed Challenger du Luc, a 7-1 shot, home by a head from Strong Promise in a pulsating finish, Dunwoody showed just why he is still regarded as the top man in the saddle.

The Ulsterman had Challenger du Luc, who has bags of talent but tends to down tools once he hits the front, perfectly placed just off the pace for most of the two and a half mile contest as last year's winner, Dublin Flyer, jumping like a seasoned gazelle, took no prisoners in front. There was drama after the third-last fence as the leader slipped and came down on the flat, but Challenger du Luc avoided the trouble and was travelling like an easy winner when he loomed up beside Strong Promise approaching the final fence.

And if the dank, gloomy conditions deprived racegoers of a clear view of most of the race, they had their money's worth on the climb to the winning post.

Challenger du Luc decided he had probably done enough as he landed over the last in front, and it took all Dunwoody's strength and expertise to persuade the big brown six-year-old otherwise. Strong Promise, tough and tenacious, threw himself back into the battle up the hill as willingly as young Kieran Gaule (who earned a rather harsh four-day ban for his efforts) asked him, but there are few who can match Dunwoody in a finish and he forced his partner's blinkered head back in front right on the line. Addington Boy stayed on into third place in front of Anabatic, Barton Bank and the favourite, Big Matt.

It was no mean training performance from Pipe, who produced the French- bred gelding to land the ante-post gamble - he was 16-1 earlier in the week - and the pounds 38,000 prize after an absence of seven months, but he gave all the credit to his former stable jockey. "Brilliant," he said. "I told Richard that he was not to be in front any sooner than the last and although it seemed an agonisingly long way to the line it all went exactly to plan, just. This has been the target for this horse since last season, and he was so well handicapped that if he was going to win a big one it was this one."

Dunwoody shaved down to his minimum 10st 2lbs to take the ride, only his second, and his first winner, for the man with whom he once shared two championships since the pair split up two seasons ago. Ever the perfectionist, he said: "Perhaps I was in front too soon but my horse was travelling so well. Once he got in front he began to prick his ears and look about, and I just hoped he would sense the other horse coming back and pick up again, which he did."

Light, but steady drizzle had turned the fast ground into a skid-pan and several horses found the conditions difficult, but Dublin Flyer was unscathed after his unlucky fall. His rider, Brendan Powell, lamented: "It was such a shame. He was going just as well as he was at the same stage last year."

Challenger du Luc is now on course for the Hennessy Gold Cup in two week's time, for which he is rated a 7-1 shot by William Hill. The Grey Monk, who maintained his unbeaten record over fences with an impressive defeat of Jodami and Morceli at Ayr yesterday, has been made favourite for the Newbury race.

There was a harsh reminder later of just how hard the winter game can be. Jenny Pitman's grand old servant Willsforddropped dead after being pulled up in the fifth race.

The feature at Cheltenham today is the televised Sporting Index Chase, in which the eight runners have to negotiate nearly four twisting, turning miles and will encounter 30 natural cross-country obstacles like banks, ditches and hedges. Last year's winner McGregor The Third lines up again, plus the former Velka Pardubice winner Its A Snip and Irish Stamp, runner- up in the Czech Republic's showpiece last month. And considerable interest is added by the presence of two Czech-trained challengers, Marketplace and Furtado, who arrived at Cheltenham on Tuesday after a 1,050-mile journey.

Today's card, page 27