The ebb and flow of fortunes in this sport was crystal clear here yesterday, despite the chill grey gloom of the afternoon. For Nicky Henderson, with four winners, the tide is in full flood; for David Pipe, who took the Hennessy Gold Cup, it is on a welcome turn. But for Paul Nicholls and the hapless Sam Thomas, the drag of the undertow has them marooned in the shallows.
Before yesterday, the Pipe stable had been woefully out of kilter, with just six winners from 116 runners since the start of October, less than half the usual strike-rate. But the success of 25-1 shot Madison Du Berlais in one of the season's most valuable handicap chases has the waves breaking in the right direction once more.
"I told everyone the horse had no chance because of the form we'd been in," said Pipe. "I can hardly believe it. And we've had two winners at Towcester today as well."
Madison Du Berlais, given a fine ride by Tom Scudamore, beat Air Force One (5-1) by three lengths after a sustained battle on testing ground over the four fences in the long, demanding straight. The victory came 20 years after Pipe and Scudamore pères, Martin and Peter, teamed up towin the race with Strands Of Gold.
Madison Du Berlais, owned by Roger Stanley and Yvonne Reynolds, is a seven-year-old was acquired for less than £20,000 from a claimer at Auteuil three years ago. Yesterday's £99,000 prize took his earnings since to over £250,000.
"He jumped the first beautifully," said Scudamore, "and after that I was always where I wanted to be. He travelled easily all the way, the cheekpieces help him to be that little bit generous with himself. I thought I'd win it from quite a way out."
Although some Hennessy winners have proved themselves cracks – like last year's hero, Denman – Madison Du Berlais has no pretensions to the highest class. "With him winning, you could say it was a bad Hennessy," added Pipe, "but he rarely runs a bad race, and the one thing he has done from day one is to battle."
Nine lengths behind Air Force One, top-weight Snoopy Loopy (12-1) finished strongly under his 11st 12lb burden to snatch third, followed in by the Nicholls pair Dear Villez(16-1) and My Will. The 9-2 favourite, Island Flyer, faded to be last of the 11 finishers.
But for Sam Thomas, who took over two weeks ago from the injured Ruby Walsh as his stable's No 1, the day was another to forget. He brought the much-fancied Big Buck's to challenge between the last two, only for the hard-driven gelding to hit the last and land awkwardly. Nine times out of 10 the partnership would have remained intact but when your luck is out, it's out, and Thomas flopped to the ground. His next chance for confidence-boosting redemption comes on Saturday at Sandown aboard Master Minded in the Tingle Creek Chase.
Henderson's Tony McCoy-ridden 404-1 four-timer with Shouldhavehadthat, Petit Robin, Duc de Regniere and Classic Fiddle brought his Nov-ember total to 26, with a strike rate of almost one in three. Duc de Regniere threw his hat in the World Hurdle ring by beating Mobaasher in the Long Distance Hurdle, rather to his trainer's surprise. "We were running him over hurdles to get his confidence back for chasing," said Henderson, "but we'll abandon that plan now."
The six-year-old's success was overshadowed by the sight of Inglis Dreverbeing taken from the course in an equine ambulance. The nine-year-old was pulled up feelingly by Denis O'Regan before the home turn, and although the hock injury he suffered is not life-threatening, his career, which included an unprecedented three World Hurdles, is almost certainly over.
The Fighting Fifth Hurdle, lost yesterday at frosty Newcastle, is likely to be rescheduled. The Grade One race was to have provided the seasonal debuts of last year's Champion Hurdler, Sublimity, and this year's third, Punjabi. Both will regroup on Saturday at either Sandown or Chepstow.
Three top-level contests are scheduled today at Fairyhouse, but with fog and frost forecast an inspection is planned. In the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, two of Ireland's other former champions, Brave Inca and Hardy Eustace, are due to square up for the ninth time, and in the novices' contests last season's best bumper horse, Cousin Vinny, makes his jumping debut against stablemate Hurricane Fly in the Royal Bond Hurdle, and Forpadydeplasterer,Trafford Lad and Tranquil Sea clash in the Drinmore Chase.