Racing: The Fellow gives a perfect encore

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The Independent Online
BELIEVE in your horse and don't panic. That has always been the best maxim. Adam Kondrat never looked like betraying it before The Fellow finally came good for a brilliant second King George VI Chase victory at Kempton.

Mind you the Polish-born but now French-based rider tested the faith of those who did not know the remarkable reserves of speed and stamina hidden inside The Fellow's long and impressive frame. Turning into the straight with half a mile to travel and three fences to jump, the French raider was on the wide outside and under pressure while inside him the eye could argue the case for at least four of his rivals. Pat's Jester led The Illywhacker with the stable companions Bradbury Star and Deep Sensation right in with a shout, their jockeys not apparently working as hard as Kondrat.

But it's the unravelling that counts and this King George had already been five minutes and 16 fences of pressure. Whatever the eye might be suggesting, The Fellow didn't need any sympathy. This was a championship event and it was the others who were hurting.

Bradbury Star had been the first to err. He landed on top of the first open ditch and while Declan Murphy's stealthy style disguised it, the horse was never truly happy thereafter. Tipping Tim was more obvious. He just couldn't go fast enough when the speed picked up on the second circuit. Kings Fountain was the most obvious of all. He didn't get high enough four fences from home and gave Peter Scudamore the ejector seat.

He remains the race's only unanswered question. Up to then this big black giant had dictated the pace, jumping handsomely in the lead and showing few signs of his catastrophic open-ditch disaster at Cheltenham last time. Indeed it was at Kempton's final open ditch, six fences from home, that he was at his cleverest yesterday. The other contenders were all queueing up to attack. Kings Fountain met the fence out of stride but ran it like a hurdler. It was time to be brave. Scudamore could take heart.

He got a great jump at the next but the steady early gallop meant that the others too had bellows to burn. Only Kings Fountain's stable companion Docklands Express was in trouble. On the outside Kondrat had The Fellow moving with ominous ease. In the centre the Gifford pair Deep Sensation and Bradbury Star looked ready to argue. The blinkered The Illywhacker seemed best of all, while closest to Kings Fountain was the chestnut head of Pat's Jester racing as if he had taken seasonal inspiration from his training grounds on the Holy Island sands of Lindisfarne.

Six top chasers still battling with just four to jump. It does not often happen. It would not last. Scudamore saw a long, long stride for Kings Fountain's take-off. The big horse did not take it, galloped smack through the Kempton birch and despite one balance-shaking wrench kept up the momentum the other side. But he had shed his load. The horse may have defied gravity. The man did not.

So Pat's Jester led. The saints and many northern punters began rejoicing. He swung into the straight with the blinkered head of The Illywhacker the biggest threat. Kondrat already at work on The Fellow.

A great jump at the third last kept the leader in charge. The Illywhacker still with him, Deep Sensation and Bradbury Star suddenly found out, The Fellow beginning to run but still some six lengths adrift. If this French- trained favourite was to catch them he had better see the bunny now.

He saw it all right. True, The Illywhacker did himself no favours with awkwardness at both the last two fences, but it was the long low gallop of the pursuer that had the bite. The scarlet silks of the Marquesa de Moratella have seen many triumphs. They have many more to come. Two photo-finish Cheltenham defeats need to be avenged. But nothing need be as sweet as this.

The Fellow is champion of France. Any disputes to his ruling all Europe too were swept away as he ate up the ground towards that final fence. In, over and away he came. The perfect embodiment of the steeplechaser in full flow. Six long lengths it was at the line. Pat's Jester beat The Illywhacker for second. But the crown, undisputed, was retained for France.

The Fellow is still only seven. He has won 13 of his 34 races for the brilliant Doumen yard. He has collected more than pounds 660,000. That is a champion in any tongue.

But to take a place in history he has to do something else. He has now to succeed where he has twice so narrowly failed. He has to take the Gold Cup in March.

Watching him yesterday, you can see the dilemma that Kondrat faces. He has a horse with a quite magnificent finishing kick. But you can play it only once. Up the flat final stages at Kempton he has twice timed it to perfection. Up the longer, much stiffer and much more pitiless uphill climb at Cheltenham he has twice had the very final nod go against him.

But he still believes and from what we saw yesterday even at the third time of worrying he is most unlikely to panic.

(Photograph omitted)

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