Racing: Old injuries claim Carvill's career: Dreams of a return to Gold Cup glory die as an uphill struggle to regain fitness is abandoned: Greg Wood on the hope and frustration inspired by a great but flawed chaser

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The Independent Online
THE WAR ended two years ago, but the surrender was announced only yesterday. When Carvill's Hill hauled himself over the last in the 1992 Gold Cup he was a broken horse, crippled both physically and mentally by six minutes of excruciating effort. Belief that Martin Pipe was somehow coaxing Carvill's Hill back to fitness finally evaporated yesterday when it was announced that a recurrent tendon injury had sealed the gelding's retirement.

The bare details of Carvill's Hill's career - 25 runs, 17 wins, three falls - do not begin to convey the hope, the fantasies or the frustration which the huge bay chaser generated, almost from the moment of his debut in a Leopardstown bumper in May 1986. Less than two years later, his fluid, ground-hungry stride carried him 15 lengths clear of Redundant Pal in a Grade Two hurdle at Punchestown, and the ominous mantle of being the best Irish prospect since Dawn Run settled firmly around his shoulders. A chasing career beckoned, and the fact that Carvill's Hill was saddled by Jim Dreaper, son of Arkle's trainer, Tom, only added to the romance, and the anticipation.

Perhaps the horse's connections were themselves caught up in - and befuddled by - Ireland's expectation. Whatever the reason, less than four months after contesting (and winning) his first novice chase, in December 1988, Carvill's Hill was lining up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It was a most ambitious target for such an inexperienced chaser, yet cash piled on to Carvill's Hill as persistent rain changed the going to heavy, and he started 5-1 second favourite to Desert Orchid. The gamble was lost before even a circuit had been completed. Carvill's Hill hit the deck at the seventh.

In the three years before his next, and final, appearance at Cheltenham, Carvill's Hill's fortunes declined further as a niggling back injury restricted his appearances - and arguably his mobility when he did appear. Though his high cruising speed allowed him to dominate his opponents in minor events, flaws in his jumping technique were painfully exposed at higher levels.

Before the start of the 1991/92 season, Carvill's Hill moved to Martin Pipe's stable in Somerset, and the champion trainer tried to get to the root of his problems. Initially, the results were dramatic. Victory in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow was followed by probably Carvill's Hill's finest achievement, when he galloped a high-class field into despairing submission in the Welsh National. Party Politics, the subsequent Grand National winner, was 20 lengths behind in second, with 19lb less in his saddle.

After success, and an emotional homecoming, in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, Carvill's Hill started evens favourite at Cheltenham for the race which was to break him. Golden Freeze, a rank outsider trained by Jenny Pitman, seemed to set out with the intention of unsettling Carvill's Hill by jumping extravagantly alongside him at every fence. Whether or not this was the case, Carvill's Hill ran straight into the first, struggled through the opening circuit, smacked the ninth and stopped almost to nothing two out. Subsequent examination showed that he had pulled several muscles, probably when hitting the first. While incurring his most humbling defeat, Carvill's Hill had probably put up the most courageous performance of his career.

Now that his racecourse days are behind him, it is time to slot Carvill's Hill in among the best of recent decades. According to Timeform, who gave him a rating (in lbs) of 182 after his Welsh National success, there have been only six better chasers in the last 30 years. 'That one performance was truly outstanding,' Simon Rowlands, who assesses staying chasers for the organisation, said yesterday, 'though he did get just about ideal conditions in the Welsh National, and he could give weight to other horses. It's often difficult for a horse running off level weights to put up performances of that calibre.'

As for his unfortunate problems with fences, Rowlands believes that 'Irish fences are generally a bit softer than ours and some Irish horses tend to get into bad habits at an early stage. With his back problem, maybe he didn't learn to jump quite as well as he should.'

Jim Dreaper's summary was more direct. 'Carvill's Hill had a fantastic engine,' his first trainer said, 'but there was a flaw in his chassis and suspension. He knew every time he was approaching a fence that it would hurt.'

For one man, however, the dream continues. Paul Green, part-owner of Carvill's Hill, refused to accept the inevitable yesterday, saying that 'while the prognosis is not good, a final decision on the horse's future will not be made until Martin Pipe and I meet next week.'

Yet even Green, the gelding's most passionate supporter, will surely accept the futility of keeping Carvill's Hill in training. The horse deserves retirement, free from the effort of carrying jockeys over fences. And free, above all, from the burden of expectation.

----------------------------------------------------------------- TOP CHASERS ON TIMEFORM RATINGS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Horse Rating 1 Arkle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .212 2 Flyingbolt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 210 3 Mill House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191 4 Desert Orchid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .187 5 Dunkirk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .186 6 Burrough Hill Lad . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .184 7= CARVILL'S HILL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182 7= Captain Christy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .182 9 Badsworth Boy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .179 10 Pendil . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 178 11= Bregawn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .177 11= The Dikler . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177 13= Buona Notte . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .176 13= Little Owl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176 13= Saffron Tartan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176 16= Brown Lad . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .175 16= Frenchman's Cove . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 16= Kinloch Brae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 16= L'Escargot . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 16= Night Nurse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .175 16= Pas Seul . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 16= Silver Buck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .175 16= Wayward Lad . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .175 24= Barnbrook Again . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .174 24= Bula . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174 24= Jodami . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174 24= Pearlyman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .174 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Ratings commence 1963 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph and table showing career record of Carvill's Hill omitted)

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