Racing: Florida Pearl really means business

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The Independent Online
A WEEK after See More Business opened the defence of his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown with a stylish win at Wetherby, Florida Pearl, Ireland's best chaser, followed suit yesterday at Down Royal on the long road to the rematch at Prestbury Park next March. The Willie Mullins-trained seven- year-old jumped immaculately to beat Dorans Pride in the James Nicholson Champion Chase, the feature event at Northern Ireland's first festival of racing.

Paul Carberry, riding the gelding for the first time in public, let him drop back and lob along as Ferbet Junior, one of last year's best novices, blazed his customary trail. To the young grey's credit against a couple of high-class seasoned campaigners, he stayed in front until the fifth fence from home. Four out, Florida Pearl and Dorans Pride ranged alongside and the trio were in the air together, but thereafter Florida Pearl took command and the big white-faced bay popped over the last to cross the line a comfortable three lengths clear.

Mullins was pleased, but harbours no illusions about the task facing his charge, a slightly disappointing third to See More Business at Cheltenham, next year. He said: "Things could not have gone better today; the rider and horse got on fine and he jumped well. He did have a good blow after the race, but he was as straight as he could be at this stage of the year. I didn't want to come here half-baked, get beaten and have a hard time. As it is, I can now ease off a bit and let him relax. But See More Business is obviously better than ever, and we've got 17 lengths to make up. Although we've probably improved, by the look of it he has too."

The chasing stars drew a huge crowd to the Co. Down track from north and south of the Irish border in what proved a hugely successful launch to the venture. The festival is the brainchild of a Government-backed body whose aim is to bring top sport to the six counties. Although Down Royal is steeped in and surrounded by political history - the course, lying in the Lagan valley south of Belfast, received its first Royal subsidy from King Billy when he was on his way to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and the Maze prison is visible from the grandstand - racing is the perfect medium for cross-community harmony.

It was entirely appropriate that Florida Pearl and Dorans Pride should take the first two places in Northern Ireland's richest race, for they were both bred in the province. But no one cares whether they are Prot- estant horses or Catholic horses.

Tony McCoy, one of Ulster's other famous sons, was on duty in Britain and made a successful dash from Chepstow to Wincanton to complete a double on two fine Martin Pipe prospects.

Having ridden Lady Cricket to an easy win in the novices' chase at the Welsh track, he had to work only slightly harder to boot home Wahiba Sands in the Tanglefoot Handicap Hurdle.

There was sadness at Sandown in a sport which sometimes demands a harrowing price. A day after racing lost one of its major players, French Holly, the chaser Eulogy, mainstay of Richard Rowe's small yard, lost his life on the course where he had won the Whitbread Gold Cup six months ago.

At Doncaster, the November Handicap, final feature of the Flat season, went in a finish of heads to Flossy who, ridden by the apprentice Tony Beech, relegated Carlys Quest to the runner-up spot for the second year.

Jack Berry's career ended on a low note when his final runner, Best Of All, was brought down in the ladies' race, an accident which knocked out Beverley Kendall, her rider, for 15 minutes and put her in hospital.