Racing: Strong lives up to Promise

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The Independent Online
Strong Promise , a five-year-old in his first season over fences, jumped his rivals silly in the crisp winter sunshine here yesterday to win the First National Bank Gold Cup Limited Handicap Chase doing the proverbial handsprings and underline his exciting potential as a star of the future.

The big, brown gelding, every inch an athlete, was returning to action just a week after going down a hard-fought head in the Murphy's Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, but showed his tussle with Challenger Du Luc had not dented his enthusiasm as a springheeled leap took him into the lead at the seventh and Kieran Gaule let him stride on. From that point Major Bell was the only one to lay down any sort of challenge, but it was an unavailing one as Strong Promise kept up his gallop and came home, ears pricked, by five lengths.

He was entitled to win as he did, as the handicapper raised him 22lb after his Cheltenham effort and he was racing off his old mark, and will find things tougher in the future. But it was an impressive performance nonetheless, and Geoff Hubbard, his trainer, never one to fight shy with his horses, has ambitious plans for the Irish-bred son of Strong Gale, who will be entered for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The one caveat is the ground. The prevailing fast going has led to small fields and complaints from trainers, but not from Hubbard, for Strong Promise is in his element on it. He said: "He is not the same horse on the soft, but he skips over firm ground, and I think the dry weather is fantastic."

Hubbard was full of praise for 23-year-old Gaule, who had earned what seemed a rather harsh three-day ban for whip misuse at Cheltenham, adding: "I was pleased he let the horse bowl along and enjoy himself once he had jumped into the lead. Jumping is what he does best - he absolutely loves it. I've never had a horse quite like him."

Strong Promise ran his race, his sixth of the season, with marvellous zest, but was slightly edgy in the preliminaries and Hubbard said: "I think he's earned a rest now. We'll enter him at Kempton, and see what the weather does. If it turns against us, we'll hope for a dry spring."

You've heard of the Godolphins, now meet the Godorphals. The owners group of that name won yesterday with their very first runner, Lear Jet, who took the Aurelius Hurdle. And on a day for first-timers, Barbara Horgan saw her colours carried to victory on their debut by Resist The Force, winner of the Holloways Gate Novices' Hurdle, which was won last year by Strong Promise. Resist the Force, a failed Flat racer, was bought for a few hundred pounds three years ago and nursed through various leg problems by Mrs Horgan's husband Martin, blacksmith for the past 18 years at the trainer Josh Gifford's yard.

And, after Muse's victory on Friday, another of David Elsworth's old warriors, Oh So Risky, notched his first win for two years with a successful debut over fences in the Hurst Park Novices' Chase.

At Aintree, Young Hustler gave his usual bravura performance over the Grand National fences in a bid to win back-to-back Becher Handicap Chases, but was unable to concede 24lb to another rejuvenated veteran, Into The Red, winner of the race two years ago and fifth in the National last year. The 12-year-old, now unbeaten in two runs since joining Mary Reveley, had his price cut from 40-1 to 25-1 in the early lists for the 1997 National.

Lorcan Wyer was detained overnight in hospital after a fall from Thornton Gate. The jockey, who sustained a broken jaw and hip injuries as another runner kicked him in passing as he lay on the ground, will be out of action for some time.