Haydock: Thomas shows that stand-ins can still produce star quality

Top chaser proves he is still best around by beating old rival Exotic Dancer once again

Are you watching, Scott Carson? Big-race rookie Sam Thomas rose to the occasion here yesterday, defying any nerves and pressure to steer Kauto Star back to winning ways. Thomas, replacing injured Ruby Walsh on the Paul Nicholls-trained champion chaser, remained ice-cool in a crucible of scrutiny with much at stake – a considerable step on his burgeoning career, the horse's reputation and the small matter of a £1 million – and almost nonchalantly secured victory by half a length.

Despite his defeat first time out this season, Kauto Star started 4-5 favourite to take his second successive Betfair Chase. His chief rival was perceived as one of last season's top novices, My Way De Solzen, but in the end it was old rival Exotic Dancer who was closest at the finish.

Thomas, 23, had to think on his feet as habitual trailblazer Ollie Magern took a flier from the tapes and hurtled to a wide-margin lead for most of the first circuit. "The plan had been to drop in and creep closer though the race," he said, "but the pace the leader went off I had to keep him to the front of the chasing group. There wasn't the luxury of time to settle behind."

My Way de Solzen, ridden by Choc Thornton, matched strides with Kauto Star, even outjumping him at times. But once the hare was caught and brushed aside, Kauto Star slapped down the gauntlet to his rival with two spectacular leaps, at the plain fence six from home and the following open ditch, where he powered to the lead to huge approbation from the rainswept faithful in the stands.

Exotic Dancer, who chased him home in both the King George VI Chase and Gold Cup, looked a threat, but though he came his closest yet, was always second best.

"He is just awesome," said Thomas. "He had to do it the hard way, chasing Ollie Magern from the start, but he settled nicely and jumped absolutely beautifully. If he'd winged the last – he didn't make a mistake but was in a little tight – he would have won much more easily."

The £300,000 contest, the first leg of the £1m Betfair bonus treble completed last term by Kauto Star with his victories at Kempton and Cheltenham, was a first Grade One success for Thomas, who joined Nicholls as No 2 last year.

"I wasn't nervous, just tried to treat it like an ordinary race," said the maths teachers' son from Abergavenny. "But this is exactly what dreams are made of, and I hope it will put me on the map." Nicholls' emotions encompassed delight and relief. "Last month's race was a stepping stone to today and the rest of the season," said the trainer. "We're now back on track, not that we were ever really off it."

At Ascot Hard Eustace produced one a trademark teak-tough rallies to outbattle Afsoun by half a length in the feature hurdle. The race was marred by the second high-profile fatality in as many Saturdays. Nicholls lost Granit Jack at Cheltenham last week; this time it was the Philip Hobbs' yard left distraught by the death of Detroit City, who suffered a ruptured valve in his heart at the second flight.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager (Junior)

Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Test Analyst

£20000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Tes...

Account Manager - (Product & Account Management, Marketing)

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Account Manager - (Produc...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried