Racing: `Tiger' rouses Forster into paying a moving tribute

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The Independent Online
Joy, despair, relief and inebriation are just some of the emotions which can bring tears to the eye at the Festival, and within just 45 minutes of the second day at Cheltenham, all four of them had. Tim Forster, not normally given to displays of feeling, was visibly moved by the success in the Queen Mother Champion Chase of Martha's Son - "the kindest and nicest horse that I've ever had anything to do with". Istabraq, meanwhile, brought delight to the punters and misery to the ring in the Royal SunAlliance Hurdle. The inebriation soon followed.

It meant, among other things, that Martha's Son was swiftly forgiven for beating the favourites in the Champion Chase. As the six runners set off, only Lord Dorcet, a hopeless 50-1 chance, stood at longer odds than Martha's Son, with the greatest burden of expectation resting on the impressive physique of Strong Promise. That faith seemed sure to be rewarded as Strong Promise galloped eagerly towards the third-last at the head of his field, but a horrible mistake there knocked every ounce of enthusiasm from his frame.

Now it was Martha's Son, who had not completed a race for nearly 18 months, who was clearly going best, and the little horse - "a tiger", Forster called him - did not disappoint. "He's the most honest, genuine and tough horse I've ever had," the trainer said. "A child of five could ride him, and at home he'll follow you around like a dog. But when he gets on a racecourse he's explosive, he completely changes character. He's a horse that makes you very emotional."

So too was Istabraq, 6-5 favourite for the opener and the horse on whom every Irish punter was depending. Nothing short of win for Danoli in today's Gold Cup will bring a bigger roar, and the manner of his success added to the excitement. Having sweated up, Charlie Swan's mount was last as they passed the post the first time, and though he had joined the leaders by the second-last, a mid-air collision with Forest Ivory almost knocked him off his feet. Istabraq recovered and stayed on up the hill to a crescendo of joy.

The subsequent Tannoy announcement which warned of counterfeit Irish pounds 20 notes in circulation was thus somewhat inaccurate, since circulation requires movement in two directions. Instead, the cash flow was one way, with JP McManus, Istabraq's owner, the most grateful beneficiary. Ireland's most famous punter had suffered second-degree burns to his betting fingers the previous afternoon, when Finnegan's Hollow fell in the opener. The balance of power was now restored.

"I chased my losses with this horse and I'm now showing a small profit," McManus said, and since he is in the habit of desribing five-figure bets as "a few quid on", the word "small" may also be something of an understatement. McManus also looked beyond his wallet, paying tribute to John Durkan, who was diagnosed as suffering from leukaemia just before he was due to start a training career, with Istabraq among his charges. "But for John, I wouldn't have this horse," McManus said. "I hope this gives him a lift."

The rest of the day belonged to Martin Pipe, whose Big Strand got up in a photo for the Coral Cup having jumped the last 10 lengths behind. Pipe completed a double in the Mildmay of Flete with Terao, his fourth winner of the meeting.

Results and cards, page 25