After the race the winning jockey, Adrian Maguire, revealed he had ridden his frantic finish half-bareback. "I lost my right iron on the flat after the last. There wasn't time to think about getting it back with the other horse coming again. And as he hung in on me away from the other horse in the last strides I couldn't use my whip. My horse was a good horse to keep going and stick his neck out. But it was very close at the end and I certainly wasn't sure I'd won."
Coulthard looked the winner as he motored clear of the favourite, Dr Jazz, after the penultimate flight. Regency Rake had some ground to make up at that point, having been slightly hampered on the bend. "I just couldn't get to where I wanted to be," Maguire said, "but perhaps it helped me not to be too close too soon." The victory was a fine reward for an agile display of horsemanship by Maguire, who goes into Cheltenham with his tail up after an unsettled start to the year. The Irishman thinks Spendid, in the Royal & SunAlliance (Novices') Chase, is his best ride. "I'm looking forward to the meeting," he said, "but it's so competitive I'd be happy to come out with any winner."
The pounds 50,000 bonus offered by yesterday's sponsors, the bookmakers Sunderlands, to the connections of a horse winning both the Imperial Cup and any race at Cheltenham is safe this year. Regency Rake will not be at the Festival. "He's off back home," the trainer's wife, Mary, said. "Our only runner at the Festival will be Feathered Gale."
The start of jump racing's showpiece meeting is only 48 hours away and most trainers' thoughts are at Prestbury Park. Charlie Mann, whose hurdler Province gave galloping Major Ollie Ellwood the second leg of his double in the two soldiers' races which opened the card, had a glowing first- hand report of his Queen Mother Champion Chase contender, Celibate. "I rode him this morning and he's flying," he said. "I'm chuffed to bits with him. He's won twice at Cheltenham and I can't understand why he's the price he is. I think it's insulting, really."
However, Cheltenham is not the be-all and end-all for everyone. A group of seven football-playing friends known as the Marvellous Partnership had targeted the National Hunt Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final with their pride and joy, Lordberniebouffant, all season and were over the moon when the six-year-old overtook Storm Of Gold on the run up the hill to win by a length and a half.
Recruits from Flat racing are banned from the Grade Three race, designed to encourage the production of late-maturing jumping types and Lordberniebouffant, winning his first race, looks a chaser in the making. "His whole season has been geared round this race," Ray Green, who heads the ownership group in Josh Gifford's yard, said. "The races at Cheltenham are still to come, but we've got ours safely in the bag."
When Cheltenham comes, the Flat cannot be far behind. At Wolverhampton, the Jeremy Glover-trained Captain Scott showed his well-being after an eight-month absence with a ready victory in the Lincoln Trial, a warm- up for the real thing at Doncaster 13 days' hence. And at Saint-Cloud in Paris the first Flat Pattern race of the European season, the Group Three Prix Exbury, went to Barbola, who beat Borgia a length and a half with Jim And Tonic a short-neck third. Barbola, trained by Jean de Roualle, is owned by Bob McCreery, one of Britain's leading breeders.
l The novice chasers Nick Dundee and Unsinkable Boxer (the intended ride of Tony McCoy) were among the 18 left in Thursday's Cheltenham Gold Cup at yesterday's five-day stage. Martin Pipe trains nine of the 35 left in the Triumph Hurdle, while Marello (bruised foot) was the only surprise withdrawal from the Stayers' Hurdle for which 17 were left in.