It is said that the best way to find a winner is to forget the formbook, just follow the script. And here yesterday, just a day after the retirement of one Gold Cup winner, Denman, was announced, the colours the great horse carried so bravely and so often up this daunting climb to the finish were back in the winner's circle. The novice chaser Join Together is no champion yet, nor may ever be, but there was no doubting the poignancy of his success.
As the six-year-old sailed boldly over the last obstacle and forged clear, the faithful in the grandstands, perfectly aware of the serendipitous timing, gave a heartfelt roar of approval. Paul Nicholls, trainer of both horses, summed up their, his and owner Paul Barber's, feelings. "This one was for Denman," he said.
Barber, that hard-headed West Country businessman, welcomed his young warrior with moist eyes. "This is incredibly emotional for me," he said. "I couldn't have wished for anything better than to have a winner here just 24 hours after we had to make the decision about Denman. You just couldn't have written it."
Denman, who will remain in his own box at Nicholls' Somerset yard to nurse his tweaked tendon and wind down, won the RSA Chase on his way the top. The progressive Join Together now has that three-miler as his Festival target, though rider Ruby Walsh cast a small shower of realism over his prospects. "He jumps very well and he stays," he said, "but will he be quick enough? Only time will tell."
Join Together was one of the last pair of horses sold by famed Co Clare talentspotter Tom Costello before his death two years ago. The other, his stablemate Deireadh Re, also won here yesterday, though fortuitously. He was gifted the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle after Sea Of Thunder, a long way clear and galloping powerfully, misjudged the last and came down. But despite his mishap he is still in the betting for the equivalent contest back here in March.
The rest of the bright winter afternoon belonged to Nicholls' chief rival for this season's trainers' title, Nicky Henderson who, along with stable jockey Barry Geraghty, notched a 34-1 treble. First up was 6-1 shot Quantatitiveeasing, whose turbo-boost up the final hill as he arrowed between Medermit and Roudoudou Ville turned the finish of the afternoon's feature handicap chase, the Spinal Research Atlantic 4 Gold Cup, into a compelling spectacle.
Then over the smaller obstacles Grandouet and Oscar Whiskey strengthened their Festival claims in the International and Relkeel Hurdles respectively. Grandouet, on whom Geraghty always looked confident as he shadowed trailblazer Overturn and Menorah, was impressive as he strode four lengths clear. "We knew what we had to do," said Henderson, "which was to let Menorah take us to Overturn, and then wait as long as possible."
Grandouet's performance confirmed his place in Henderson's Champion Hurdle squad alongside former king Binocular, primed for the Christmas Hurdle, and youngster Spirit Son, due out in the new year. "There are some serious hurdlers there to shoot at," added Henderson, "so it's maybe just as well we've got plenty of ammunition."