Racing: Princeful's Long reign

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PRINCEFUL, winner of the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, signed off his career over the smaller obstacles here yesterday with a supremely courageous victory in the year's other Grade One contest for marathon specialists, the Long Walk Hurdle. Immediately after the winning trainer Jenny Pitman greeted Robert Hitchins's seven-year-old in typical fashion - with a hug and a kiss on his sweaty bay neck - she announced that Gold Cup 2000 was the masterplan.

"I told Mr Hitchins that we'll win the Millennium Gold Cup with him," she said. "And to do that he'll have to start chasing now. I've already schooled him over fences at home and he's jumping them very nicely indeed."

Yesterday's race developed into a tactical battle between the country's two top riders, Richard Dunwoody and Tony McCoy, and was sheer pleasure to watch. McCoy set off in front on Deano's Beeno, who skipped over his hurdles with a will, with Dunwoody on Princeful biding his time in his wake.

McCoy picked up his stick for the first time approaching the penultimate flight, Deano's Beano responded and was still clear at the last, but now with Princeful breathing down his neck. The scrap to the line, with both horses giving everything and two masters of their art in overdrive, had the crowd on its feet. There was only half a length between the pair after nearly three and a quarter miles and Dunwoody said of his partner: "He tries so hard. I just wish they were all like that."

Princeful's first big chasing target will be the Royal & Sun Alliance Novice Chase at Cheltenham, with a couple of lesser, but as yet unspecified, warm-ups first. "I was really tired this morning after some late nights," Pitman said, "but watching this horse charged me as if I was wired up to a battery."

In the day's feature handicap chase, the Betterware Cup, the bottom-weight, Torduff Express, brought the 50 winner mark up for the season for Paul Nicholls. The ride on the 10-year-old was a chance one for Norman Williamson, who deputised for the injured Timmy Murphy and brought his Saturday big- race score to three from the last four.

He kicked on a mile from home on the bold-jumping Torduff Express and came home 18 lengths clear of Callisoe Bay and King Lucifer. "We'd set ourselves the target of 50 before Christmas," a satisfied Nicholls said. Torduff Express will, if he recovers from yesterday's exertions, turn out again in the Welsh National at Chepstow tomorrow week.

Josh Gifford produced an appropriate seasonal Kurakka in the Book Of Music Novices' Chase, a contest named in memory of one of his best, but ultimately ill-fated, young charges. Kurakka barely put a foot wrong as he bounded along in the lead with his ears pricked and when the last of the 16 fences was in his sights the race was over bar a fall.

Richard Dunwoody took the time to organise the five-year-old to negate such a possibility and he had 13 lengths to spare over his former stablemate Strong Paladin to record his second victory in as many runs over fences.

There are hopes that Kurakka, who shares his sire, Florida Son, with last season's champion staying novice Florida Pearl, might make an Arkle Chase contender. "Richard said two and a half miles would be his mark, but at Cheltenham we might get away with two," Gifford said.

Get Real's quirk is that he cannot operate on a left-handed track, so the Festival is not on his list of options. The enormous brown seven-year- old had a good record round the gaffs last season and coped admirably with yesterday's step up in class in the Frogmore Chase. He grabbed his bridle from the off, as is his wont, and all Mick Fitzgerald had to do was stick with him and steer him. The winning trainer, Nick Henderson, said: "He's not really a tearaway, but there's just no point in trying to brake him."

Half-an-hour later Fitzgerald had a less nerve-stretching, but equally easy, win as Get Real's stablemate Hidebound stamped himself the season's best rookie hurdler as he stretched his rivals, headed by Renzo, by 17 lengths and more and his unbeaten record to three in the Kennel Gate Novices' Hurdle. The rangy six-year-old looks every inch a chaser and is the apple of his trainer's eye. "He'll stick to hurdling this season for the racing experience," Henderson said, "and I think - I hope - he's going to be very, very good."

Fitzgerald, with most of the opposition already in trouble, gave Hidebound one smack three flights out just to make sure and the gelding shot further clear. Henderson said: "This one can go left-handed; in fact he can do anything bar walk on water. Although," he added, "we haven't actually tried him on that."