There has been no longer-priced winner of the two-and-a- half-miles and 110 yards handicap chase which, under its various titles since its launch in 1960, has signalled that the jump season is well and truly under way. But success for the little man - or in this case, woman - is part of the winter game as it can never be on the Flat, and the huge crowd here welcomed Nock and her gallant grey outsider as if they had been backed off the boards.
Senor El Betrutti's participation in the pounds 60,000 race was confirmed only after an encouraging spin on the all-weather gallop of Nock's neighbour Nigel Twiston-Davies earlier in the week. Nock, whose stables are about 20 minutes drive from Prestbury Park at Stow-on-the-Wold, said: "Our horse had been well beaten at Ascot last time out, but we thought we might as well have a crack as it was only down the road and we wouldn't have so far to come home with our tails between our legs if it all went wrong.
"But it didn't, and all credit not only to the team who do it with me, but to Nigel as well. I'm still very green at this game and if I ever have a problem I phone him up, and he tells me to keep galloping the old grey goat and everything will be all right."
Jamie Osborne sent Senor El Betrutti past the 1995 winner Dublin Flyer with five of the 15 fences remaining and, to Nock and her London-based lawyer husband Gerald's astonishment, remained in front. Challenger Du Luc, who took the spoils last year, finished well to snatch second place from Bertone, but was three lengths adrift of the winner.
The well-backed favourite Sparky Gale's long journey from Lockerbie was in vain as he could only stay on at one pace into fourth, eight lengths behind the winner. "He jumped for fun and travelled for most of the race,", said his rider Brian Storey, "but coming down the hill I was hanging on to nothing as the others quickened away, and he did well to stick on like he did."
A step up in distance is next on the agenda for Sparky Gale, whose trainer Colin Parker has not yet given up hope that he can make his mark at the highest level but whose Gold Cup odds have been pushed out to 25-1 by the bookmakers.
Another candidate for the chasing crown, Coome Hill, made a satisfactory seasonal debut in the following race, the Flowers Original Handicap Chase, staying on steadily under topweight to take third place behind all-the- way winner Banjo.
At Ayr, the Gold Cup winner Mr Mulligan had his predicted exercise canter to win the Sean Graham Limited Handicap Chase, but the sailing was not as plain as it might have been. Six from home, loping along on the bridle, the chestnut failed to shorten his massive frame sufficiently in front of the fence and had Richard Dunwoody on the buckle end as he rooted it.
The mistake allowed the vainly pursuing Ask Me Later, who was carrying 54lb more than his true handicap weight, to close to within three lengths but, once back on an even keel, the orange horse only had to be pushed out for a comfortable victory.
The uncertainty of races involving jumping tyros could hardly have been better illustrated in the Wadworth 6X Novice Chase at Cheltenham. Three horses, all going well, rose as one at the penultimate obstacle and a stirring finish seemed in prospect, but only Tullymurry Toff galloped away as Shekels and Storm Run sprawled independently on the ground behind him. Shekels lay ominously inert for some minutes, but rose unharmed once he had caught his breath.
Tullymurry Toff, surprisingly generously-priced at even- money favourite in a four-horse field, had only to carry Eddie Callaghan neatly over the last to make it two from two in his ventures over fences, and will next move up to three miles in the Feltham Novice Chase at Kempton's Christmas meeting.
The six-year-old's trainer, the Malton-based Malcolm Jefferson, predicts a bright future as a chaser for the little dark bay son of King's Ride.
He said: "He may lack a little bit in height but he's very strong. And he thinks for himself, too. He made a mistake at the first ditch, but Eddie said he learned from it and he was perfect at the next one."Reuse content