O'Sullevan reacted with the same disbelief as everyone else on the course - rider Graham Bradley not excluded - as the favourite's grey head emerged from between his scrabbling forefeet and bobbed back up into the conventional configuration. It was a measure of Suny Bay's class that he was back at the head of affairs before another two fences had been crossed.
And class was the name of the game in the 41st running of the season's most significant long-distance park course handicap. The lesser contestants hardly had a look-in as the heavyweight trio of Suny Bay, Barton Bank and Belmont King began to apply pressure in the final mile. Belmont King crashed out at the penultimate fence, and though Barton Bank tried his gallant best, but had no answer to the irresistible power of Suny Bay who, at the age of eight, is three years his junior.
The winning distance was 13 lengths; another four lengths behind the each-way punts - including one from O'Sullevan - on French challenger Ciel De Brion were foiled by Eudipe. Fifth-placed Trying Again was close enough if good enough on the turn in, but seemed not to stay in this company.
The performance confirmed Suny Bay, owned by Andrew Cohen, as a serious operator on his essential soft ground, and projected him to the head of the market for the Cheltenham Gold Cup - he is now 6-1 from 16-1 with William Hill. He is a horse who has had his problems, however; his front legs are, in the word of his trainer Charlie Brooks, "terrible", and a tendency to suffer pulmonary haemmorhage during his races is managed by prolonged spells out in the paddocks breathing fresh air.
Brooks would like to take Suny Bay to Kempton on Boxing Day to take on another grey in the King George VI Chase. He said: "I know One Man is faster, but sometimes a real battler can prove the best. This horse is a real honest one. If he was a sportsman he'd be Roy Keane. He gives you everything."
It was a second Hennessy in three years (after Couldnt Be Better) for Brooks, who watched - or rather did not watch - the race from the infield. "After he made that mistake I stopped looking", he said, "and then listening to the commentary. Peter kept mentioning Barton Bank first, and I thought we were being beaten. But it was a privilege to win his last race. That voice makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck."
Bradley, who won the race on subsequent Gold Cup winner Bregawn 15 years ago, might have had the same sensation but for a different reason. The 37-year-old said: "It was fear that kept me in the saddle. Fear of what was coming behind and fear of what Mr Cohen might say to me."
Those watching should have known, though, that Suny Bay was nailed on for success, his undoubted talent notwithstanding. One of the best guides to finding winners is to look for the best story - and Brooks shares a birth date - 3 March, though 45 years later - with 79-year-old O'Sullevan.
And using the same criterion, the 12-1 success of the next winner should have paid for Christmas. The perfectly approp- riately named Sounds Fyne carried O'Sullevan's black and yellow colours to victory in the Fulke Walwyn Chase.
The first two in the Gerry Feilden Hurdle, Sanmartino and I'm Supposin, are likely to clash again in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton the day after Boxing Day. The David Nicholson-trained winner made it three out of three this term as he gave 6lb and a 13-length beating to his rival, but it was an equally satisfactory performance from I'm Supposin, making his first appearance since picking up an injury in the Scottish Champion Hurdle seven months ago.
Sanmartino asserted only after I'm Supposin, whose jumping was over-extravagant, ran out of puff two hurdles from home. "Delighted with that," said the runner-up's trainer Richard Rowe, "He wasn't helped by having to make his own running and he was a bit fresh, but it took the other one a little while to get away from us, didn't it? Kempton's pretty sharp and wouldn't be his ideal track, but he'll get plenty of pace there, and shouldn't have to do the donkey work."Reuse content