After 10-1 shot Carruthers romped away with the 55th Hennessy Gold Cup there were certainly cheers for the journeymen who were able to celebrate their finest hour, jockey Mattie Batchelor and trainer Mark Bradstock. But as befits an arena where roots are as cherishedas flourishing branches, the emotion behind the ovation was first and foremost for one who has achieved respect and affection across the spectrum.
Carruthers was bred and is part-owned by Lord Oaksey, a top amateur rider, a better writer and broadcaster and – perhaps his greatest legacy – founder of and tireless worker for the sport's foremost charity, the Injured Jockeys Fund. More than Flat racing, the jumping branch wears its heart on its sleeve and, a week after Kauto Star's triumph at Haydock, there was once again uninhibited approval of a fairytale result.
Oaksey, 82 and now frail, was not present to see his colours carried to victory in the prestigious handicap which marked his own best moment in the saddle; he won the second running on Taxidermist 53 years ago. A tearful Batchelor was in no doubt what it meant to him professionally and personally. "A Saturday race like this is what it's all about," he said. "But this one is more special than I can say. I lost my mum two years ago today."
Little Carruthers is no champion – he was one of the lightweights yesterday, having slipped down the ratings to 10lb lower than a year ago – but lacks nothing in courage, and made much of the running, no mean feat over three and a quarter miles round a demanding course, before fending off serial challenges on the home straight. "He's a little lion," said Batchelor. "Coming to the second-last I knew I had to wing it to win, and he didn't let me down."
At the line Carruthers had nearly four lengths to spare over Planet Of Sound (14-1), who held off his strong-finishing Philip Hobbs stablemate Fair Along (33-1). Great Endeavour (5-1) ran out of stamina in fourth; the 9-2 favourite Aiteen Thirtythree faded badly.
The best horse on show yesterday was Big Buck's, who took his winning streak to 13, equalling the score racked up by another top-class hurdler, Bula, in the early 70s. Ridden by Ruby Walsh, he sauntered home by five lengths in the Long Distance Hurdle. His two long-term targets are an unprecedented fourth World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the record-winning sequence for a jumper, the 16 in a row compiled by Sir Ken between 1951 and 1953.
Big Buck's is the best hurdler in training; arguably the most progressive and certainly the most versatile is Overturn, who yesterday became the first horse to win both the top contest on the Flat, the Northumberland Plate, and over obstacles, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, at Newcastle.
Donald McCain's charge, another enthusiastic frontrunner, took the step up to Grade 1 hurdles company in his stride, cheerfully fending off the former two-mile champion Binocular and making rider Jason Maguire's rather bumpy helicopter dash from Bangor – where he won on the yard's exiting novice chaser Peddlers Cross – worthwhile.