Racing: Holly the toast of Auteuil

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The Independent Online
FRENCH HOLLY had Ferdy Murphy dreaming of the 2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup after putting up a brilliant performance to land the Prix La Barka at Auteuil yesterday. The giant eight-year-old excelled with his jumping over the French hurdles before powering three lengths clear of Kimbi on the long run-in under Andrew Thornton.

It was a magnificent performance by the gelding who is now on course for a return to Auteuil for the French Champion Hurdle, the Grande Course de Haies, next month.

While this signals that French Holly is the one they all have to beat next month, Murphy and Thornton have their eyes focussed on the Gold Cup.

An ecstatic Murphy said: "The whole purpose of bringing him here and running him over the bigger obstacles was to give him the experience he needs for a chasing campaign next season and we want to win the Millennium Gold Cup.

"The horse has never looked better and I think a downpour this morning helped him. My only concern was the loose horses around him, though if anything they made him concentrate on the job."

In contrast to French Holly, Britain's other contender, Galant Moss, never looked like getting into the shake-up for Martin Pipe and Tony McCoy. The gelding was in trouble half way down the back stretch and finished sixth, more than 17 lengths behind the winner.

McCoy offered no excuses for Galant Moss, saying: "I don't have an excuse for him. French Holly is rated around 20lb above my horse in England and was entitled to beat him."

The French Gold Cup, the Grande Steeplechase de Paris, saw an upset as the odds-on favourite and 1997 winner, Al Capone II, was overturned by Mandarino. The winner is trained by Marcel Rolland, who handled top staying hurdler Le Coudray in his career in France. Rolland missed one of the greatest moments of his life as he was stuck in a faulty lift for the whole contest.