Racing: Member exposes Rushing Wild

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The Independent Online
AFTER struggling all afternoon, the hot-air balloon bearing the sponsor's logo finally achieved lift- off shortly before the start of the Agfa Diamond Chase here yesterday. It rose just a few yards before a tether dragged it back to earth, but it still got further off the ground than did the Gold Cup aspirations of Rushing Wild when the race unfolded minutes later.

Four weeks earlier, in a front- running success over course and distance, Rushing Wild had looked Gold Cup material, but the backers who made him 8-15 favourite yesterday overlooked a crucial element of that form.

In the Mildmay Memorial he was bottom weight in a field of exposed, and mostly declining, handicappers, but yesterday he had to shoulder 12st against two sharp rivals, and they never let him get away.

Captain Dibble ran a solid race, but it was Country Member who jumped the last with the favourite. As the incline increased towards the line, so the weight on Rushing Wild's back began to tell and Country Member and Luke Harvey left him treading water before going on to win by six lengths.

Martin Pipe tried hard not to appear too despondent, but the effort showed. 'He ran well, was giving away a lot of weight and wants further,' the trainer said, but it was hard not to feel that with Pipe's assistance the balloon might have been airborne much earlier.

This was a dispiriting performance, perhaps best summed up by the fact that the winner's Cheltenham target is the Ritz Club Chase, a handicap. Rushing Wild will now go straight to the Gold Cup, but he can be backed at 10-1 with Coral and his connections will no longer be travelling by bandwagon.

If Rushing Wild's defeat was implausible, Mole Board's win in the Agfa Hurdle was simply baffling, to all but his trainer, Jim Old, and a few fortunate confidants. Valfinet, another pacemaking Pipe favourite, came round the home turn in serene isolation, with the likes of Morley Street and Ruling already beaten, but Mole Board, defying a 668-day absence, was not done for.

It was the favourite, fit from a busy campaign, who folded first, with Mole Board galloping clear after the last. 'Deep down I thought I had him right, but I didn't want to admit it,' said Old, whose demeanour was all about justified pleasure rather than surprise. Several of his connections were on at longer odds than the 33-1 starting price yesterday, while a Bristol betting shop took a wager of pounds 1,000 each way at 100-1 on Mole Board for the Champion Hurdle a fortnight ago.

Not surprisingly, 25-1 (with Ladbrokes) is now the best Festival price available, with Coral offering just 10-1. Four years ago, Mole Board led over the last in the Champion only to fade behind Beech Road. While racing has a habit of compensation for such disappointments, it rarely takes so long, and that punter in Bristol is unlikely to claim on more than the place part of his bet.

Festival tickets will also be booked for Young Hustler and Trainglot, both winners on yesterday's card. Young Hustler led throughout the last circuit to take the novice chase and now head for the Sun Alliance Chase, while Trainglot gave further evidence of Jimmy FitzGerald's revival in the Tote Jackpot Hurdle. He may line up for the Stayers' Hurdle, though the Sun Alliance Hurdle is a more realistic target.

Festival trials dominate each weekend throughout the country at present, and the most significant run yesterday may have been a losing one. After almost two years away, Blazing Walker was not unduly punished to run a close third to the fitter Armagret and Deep Sensation at Wetherby. His Gold Cup price was cut to 14-1 from 33-1 with Hills.

With contenders dropping out almost daily, those odds may shorten further.

LESTER PIGGOTT's return to the saddle was put off until Wednesday when heavy rain swept the United Arab Emirates, causing the postponement of yesterday's meeting, at Nad Al Sheba. Piggott, 57, is resuming his international riding career after a near-fatal fall at the Breeders' Cup in the United States three months ago.