Leading Irish chasers swept aside by irresistible late surge from Tidal Bay

Nicholls' veteran lands Lexus as Flemenstar's stamina drains after promising challenge

Well, you would think that might settle it. Even in defeat, mind you, Flemenstar contrived to reiterate his quality. Raised in class as well as distance at Leopardstown yesterday, he still seemed to be tanking along when Andrew Lynch finally permitted him the lead on the home turn. Throughout the Lexus Chase, he had been suffused with the same brio that had overwhelmed rivals at two and a half miles or shorter. And, having been restrained over the longer trip, he took up the running so smoothly that many were deceived he would gallop clear as usual. After all, he only had one more fence to jump.

As soon as he had done so, however, it was as though a switch had been turned off. His stamina suddenly spent, Flemenstar began to flounder. First Lieutenant, with characteristic courage, renewed his challenge. Even as he went half a length up in the final strides, however, he was in turn collared in the shadow of the post by Tidal Bay, who had been going nowhere in the back straight. Sir Des Champs, another taken off his feet, was seeing things out just as strongly on the outside and only just failed to collar Flemenstar for third.

Disappointing though it was, for those romantics who had hoped to see David beat the Goliaths in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, Flemenstar palpably remains a top prospect at shorter distances. He would be hard to beat over an intermediate trip in the Ryanair Chase, but the dream now must surely be a showdown with Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase back at two miles. One way or another, the Casey family still have a horse in their tiny stable to be envied by the game's biggest spenders.

The winner's rejuvenation goes a long way to explaining why Paul Nicholls should be among the handful of top trainers whose hegemony has made such a throwback of Flemenstar. Tidal Bay is about to turn 12, and Ruby Walsh adroitly controlled his mount's established quirks by challenging between rivals late, but the old horse has a proven relish for the hill at Cheltenham and would have to be taken seriously in a Gold Cup on soft ground.

"Everyone was in the same boat," Walsh said. "We all knew Flemenstar's stamina had to be tested, and the tempo was upped all the way. It was a real true-run contest. When I was starting to niggle I thought: 'Good. It's going to be a test.' And he's just a different horse this year."

In the absence of Big Buck's, however, Walsh did suggest connections might have a tempting alternative in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. In which case, yesterday's result could yet prove most auspicious for Bobs Worth, who had beaten First Lieutenant and Tidal Bay on his reappearance at Newbury.

Sir Des Champs also took a big step forward, having needed the run when blitzed by Flemenstar on his reappearance, but still needs to brush up his jumping. Pandorama showed little on his comeback from a long absence, but more had been expected from Hidden Cyclone and it was alarming to see him tail off so quickly after briefly asserting out of the back straight.

Immediate signals from the Flemenstar camp were mixed. Peter Casey, his veteran trainer, felt that the horse had "boiled over a little bit" and wondered whether he might have been better served by the customary, positive tactics. Lynch suggested coming back for the Hennessy Gold Cup, over course and distance in February, if conditions were less demanding. But Francis Casey, assistant to his father, took this first defeat in eight starts in good heart. "He was too free the whole way and just emptied," he said. "The ground was terribly tacky and he didn't get home. It's disappointing – but it's taken the pressure off!"

While intimating Flemenstar would still get an entry in the Gold Cup, he mischievously suggested that Sprinter Sacre might be "shaking in his boots". The sponsors make Bobs Worth 7-2 from 9-2 for the Gold Cup, with Tidal Bay 8-1 from 20-1 and First Lieutenant 12-1 from 16-1. Sir Des Champs remains 7-1, while Flemenstar is out to 12-1.

Walsh had already won a Grade One novice chase in the same Graham Wylie silks on Back In Focus, who just wore down his stablemate, Aupcharlie, on the line. Their trainer, Willie Mullins, significantly pronounced that Back In Focus "has the RSA Chase written all over him" and he looks interesting at 12-1 with William Hill.

Mullins hopes that Hurricane Fly can retrieve his status as the horse to beat in the Champion Hurdle, having been leapfrogged in several lists by Darlan at Kempton on Boxing Day, when he faces just four rivals in the Istabraq Hurdle on today's card.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Blackwater King (3.25 Doncaster)

Next Best

Buxom (1.50 Doncaster)

There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'