A standing dish is soon to be taken off Ireland's racing menu. It was announced yesterday that 10-time Grade One winner Beef Or Salmon will step out on to a track to compete for the last time at Punchestown in 14 days' time. The 12-year-old will take on his youngers – and now betters – in the Gold Cup at the last of the season's jumping festivals but win or lose is guaranteed the ovation of the meeting.
"He'll go there, ground and weather permitting, and that will be it," said trainer Michael Hourigan. "We thought it would be a good place to retire him and wouldn't it be mighty if he went out on a high note."
With this year's Gold Cup third Neptune Collonges and 2005 Gold Cup winner Kicking King, plus his own talented stablemate Mossbank, confirmed as rivals, that is probably wishful thinking. But the old warrior need bow to none, even in defeat. Since he first appeared in May 2001, Beef Or Salmon has galloped 150 miles in anger, won 19 of his 50 starts, and earned £983,636 for owner Joe Craig.
His 10 wins at the highest level, which include the Punchestown Gold Cup four years ago, put him in elite company, for only two horses, hurdles legend Istabraq and two-mile chasing superstar Moscow Flyer, have compiled a better total. Beef Or Salmon has won twice at Punchestown, but his happiest hunting ground has been Leopardstown, where he won three editions each of the Lexus Chase and Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup.
The switch-tailed chestnut's victories have included two Flat races under talents as diverse as Mick Kinane and his trainer's teenage daughter Laura, but the one blank on his CV is a victory outside his native Ireland. He ran in five consecutive Gold Cups, doing best when fourth to Best Mate in 2004, and finished second and third to Kauto Star in two Betfair Chases at Haydock.
His most recent appearance was when he was pulled up in last month's Irish National after running respectably for a long way under top-weight in atrocious conditions. "We spoke about retiring him after that," said Hourigan, "but I've never seen him jump so well. We won't risk him on quick ground at Punchestown, but we'd be hoping that it will come right for him and he can go out on a stage where he'll be recognised."
The horse who took over from Beef Or Salmon as Ireland's highest-rated staying chaser was Kicking King. The 10-year-old, off the track for two years because of injury, was a late absentee from the latest Gold Cup after a minor interruption to his rehabilitation, but his work yesterday morning confirmed all was well again. "He looks great," said trainer Tom Taaffe, "and is right on course for Punchestown."
The season's last senior Grade One chase was taken 12 months ago by Neptune Collonges, who ran such a sterling race when very nearly splitting his more celebrated Paul Nicholls stablemates Denman and Kauto Star at Cheltenham. "He's in fine form and this has been his target since the Gold Cup," said Nicholls.
Mick Fitzgerald, taken by stretcher off the track at Aintree after the Grand National, is to have a second operation on his neck after initial surgery on Sunday stabilised damage incurred when L'Ami fell. The 37-year-old Irishman had vertebrae and discs realigned at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and it is planned to move him to the Nuffield, nearer his Oxfordshire home.
With the Aidan O'Brien-trained Listen ruled out of the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks after a setback, the filly who has replaced her in most betting lists at the head of the market after something of a gamble, Muthabara, will make her seasonal reappearance in a trial next week. The weather, and subsequent ground conditions, will govern whether that is the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket or the Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Newbury.
The daughter of Red Ransom, trained by John Dunlop for Sheikh Hamdan, won both her starts last year before incurring a minor injury. "All the signs are that she's moving well and has a lot of enthusiasm," said the Sheikh's racing manager Angus Gold yesterday. "I just hope this bookmaker talk is right."
* Jamie Spencer deputised for the absent Natalia Gemelova at Lingfield yesterday to give Newmarket trainer Michael Squance his first victory. Spencer found space for Hessian a couple of furlongs out. Gemelova had been unhurt in a car accident but gave up the ride.
Grade One honours list
Istabraq 14 wins
Moscow Flyer 13
Beef Or Salmon 10
Brave Inca 9
Florida Pearl 9
Kauto Star 8
Flagship Uberalles 7
Native Upmanship 7