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Racing: Hill ushers in outsider

FORTUNES changed up heartbreak hill in the closing strides of the Whitbread Gold Cup here yesterday. The winner, the 25-1 shot Ushers Island, was only third over the last fence; the runner-up, Antonin, behind him in fourth.

The finish may have dashed the hopes of the supporters of Docklands Express and Fighting Words, who looked set for a vintage battle for glory as they rose to the last together. But it provide a thrilling final flourish to the top-level jump-race season.

With three miles behind them and only the last three fences to jump Young Hustler, Fighting Words, Antonin, Docklands Express and Flashing Steel drew clear of the rest, with Ushers Island tacked on behind.

Young Hustler, always prominent, led over the third last but was collared after the penultimate obstacle. The gallant 12-year-old Docklands Express, the winner three years ago, and Fighting Words took over. But on their heels, after making rapid progress, was the out-and-out stayer Ushers Island. Charlie Swan conjured a flyer from his partner at the last and, switching right, a tremendous change of gear which took him sweeping away to victory. And little Antonin, none too fluent over the last three fences, charged up the hill to snatch second place and make it a one- two for the northern raiders.

Ushers Island's owner, Bob Bowden, was present, but his trainer, Howard Johnson, was back home on the farm in Crook, Co Durham, dealing with the late lambing. The win was fine compensation for the eight-year-old's third-fence fall in the National, and for Swan, disqualified when first past the post on Cahervillahow when Docklands was awarded the race.

Swan said: 'He missed out a couple down the back, but the one thing I knew was that he would stay, because he's won that four-miler at Cheltenham. And turning for home over the last three I grew more and more confident. I must say, though, when I saw Dockland Express in front of me at the last it brought back a few memories.'

Earlier in the day, the Thresher Classic Trial produced a workmanlike performance in the testing conditions from Linney Head. But whether the unbeaten son of Lyphard represents Sheikh Mohammed, still looking for his first Derby winner, at Epsom is unclear.

The round-actioned colt stayed on resolutely up the hill to beat Khamaseen a length and three-quarters. But the winning trainer, John Gosden, said: 'I can remember after Dick Hern was asked if Nashwan would gallop down the (Epsom) hill he said he would gallop down the side of a house if necessary. I couldn't in honesty say the same about this horse; by his action he would prefer a flatter track, and may be more of a French Derby type.'

The runaway Kempton winner Thabit set a good gallop, and was still in front as the field swung into the straight and fanned out to tackle the hill. But he capitulated quickly as the others took him, the first being Khamaseen at the two- furlong marker. Frankie Dettori had held up Linney Head off the pace but, as Khamaseen made the best of his way home, Dettori began to wind his partner up and the 9-4 favourite produced the goods.

He went past Khamaseen a furlong and a half out and his relentless gallop kept him clear. Time Star made late progress to be third.

In the opener Paul Eddery was banned for three days (2-4 May) for careless riding, though under the new rules his mount Solo Prize kept the race.

(Photograph omitted)