The richest race over fences ever run at Leicester may also turn out to be one of the most significant, for history may yet record that both a subsequent Cheltenham and Aintree winner contested yesterday's prosaically named Jelson Homes Quality House Builders Since 1889 Chase. The two and a half mile contest went to upwardly mobile chaser Jack The Giant; in third place, staying on doggedly on his seasonal debut, was Grand National favourite Butler's Cabin.
Jack The Giant, trained by Nicky Henderson, is one of those horses who has thoroughly justified the decision by the Seven Barrows stable jockey, Mick Fitzgerald, to defer his retirement for a season. The six-year-old was a top-drawer novice chaser last season but this term had been shrewdly and lucratively targeted at hurdles, exploiting his favourable handicap mark over the smaller obstacles.
That strategy peaked last month when he landed a cunning plan and a considerable gamble in Europe's most valuable handicap hurdle, the Ladbroke, at Ascot. Yesterday, back to his day job, he demonstrated that he had lost none of the innate talent that brought him his third place in the Arkle Trophy. The 10-11 favourite travelled smoothly, forged effortlessly to the front two fences out and, despite a slightly inattentive fluff of the last obstacle, had six easy lengths to spare over Fundamentalist.
The strapping Giant's Causeway gelding, whose scalps last season included the Champion Chase favourite, Twist Magic, at Kempton, will be given an entry in the two-mile showpiece, but his primary Festival target is the Ryanair Chase over yesterday's distance. He is a 10-1 shot for the longer race; 16-1 for the Champion Chase.
"He jumped well and we are really pleased with that," said Henderson's assistant, Tom Symonds, yesterday. "We found out he got the trip in spite of the ground; he does not like it soft."
Jack The Giant may yet have another foray over hurdles in search of bookmakers' money, at Newbury next month. "We can mix and match with him," added Symonds, "and the Totesport Trophy would be an option as the Ladbroke worked out so well."
Jonjo O'Neill's team has been out of sorts, but the turn of the year has brought something of a revival. Butler's Cabin was the 11th to take home prize-money to Jackdaws Castle since Busy Henry started the ball rolling on New Year's Day.
The eight-year-old ended his previous campaign in fine style, with hard-fought victories in two top staying events, the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, and was never realistically going to win yesterday over a far from adequate trip.
But his effort kept him as market leader to give Tony McCoy and JP McManus a first National. "He's run well," said O'Neill. "Over two and a half miles he was flat out all the way. He had a hard season last year so we gave him a long rest and there's been no rush with him.
"But now he does need running and if I can find another race for him before the National weights come out he will go again, and I don't mind if it's over hurdles or fences."
The fact that Leicester's richest chase through three centuries of sport at Oadby was worth just 14,091.75 to the winner is perhaps a sad reflection on the levels of prize-money in this country. It is a subject over which the British Horseracing Authority chief executive, Nic Coward, took some flak during the afternoon in London as he touched on a variety of political topics at the annual meeting of those who produce the raw material for owners and trainers, the Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
From another era and a distant field yesterday came the news of the death of George Moore, one of the greatest of Australian jockeys, at the age of 84.
Queenslander Moore, 10-times champion jockey in Sydney, was best-known in Britain for his brief but brilliant association with Sir Noel Murless. In the spring and summer of 1967, Moore won the 1,000 Guineas on Fleet, 2,000 Guineas and Derby on Royal Palace, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Busted, all for Murless.
NB: Rollin 'N Tumblin