It should have been judged sacrilege, but actually proved an omen. On the day the Racing Post sponsored a valuable Grade Three handicap chase here, the paper’s marketing department placed a logo-adorned horse blanket on the statue of Desert Orchid, the greatest exponent round this track in recent memory, that stands next to the parade ring. A few hours later it was another grey who stood in the winner’s circle, similarly clad. Nacarat, trained by Tom George, took the day’s feature in a spring-heeled trailblazing style of which the four-time King George VI Chase winner would have been proud.
Nacarat’s stunning nine-length success under Tony McCoy was another step towards fulfilling the potential that George spotted since the eight-year-old joined him from France 15 months ago. “The change in him since he came to us has been enormous,” he said. “He’s narrow and angular but he’s now started to fill out and looks a proper horse. I entered him in last year’s King George and though people laughed, I’d like to think he’d be back here next Boxing Day.”
Neither Gloucestershire-based George’s hopes, nor the memories evoked of Dessie, should be regarded as too fanciful. Aided by a confident McCoy, Nacarat coped with 19 opponents, a 12lb hike in the handicap since winning at Doncaster last month and his first try at three miles with equal ruthless efficiency.
Accompanied by Endless Power up front on the first circuit, he could be called the winner before the final turn and was a joy to watch as he stretched nimbly and powerfully clear over the final three fences. All of those who tried to keep tabs on him paid for their efforts; he was followed in by two who came from off the gallop, Possol and the 7-2 favourite Big Fella Thanks.
“He’s a horse with a lot of pace,” said McCoy. “He was always in his comfort zone, and I was always able to dictate how the race was run. I was able to give him a couple of breathers down the back and as soon as I asked him to pick up again, he did. The drying ground helped him to get the trip and turned it into a test more of speed than stamina.”
Nacarat will not be going to Cheltenham, George explaining: “He has the speed of a two-miler and stays further but he doesn’t like going downhill so we’ll stick to flat tracks and the three-miler at Aintree is a possibility.”
Much of the pre-race focus was on Big Fella Thanks, not only for his prominence in the Grand National betting but for his prospects of earning the Royal British Legion £2.75m, the Tote Scoop6 rolled-over bonus pool. The sole winner of the previous week’s bet, who requested anonymity, had made the Paul Nicholls-trained seven-year-old his selection but despite his defeat the ex-serviceman’s welfare organisation still collected. The East Anglian philanthropist donated £200,000 from last week’s winning of £669,000 and the Tote added £11,000, the result of £1,000 on yesterday’s 10-1 winner.
Big Fella Thanks drifted in the National betting after this, leaving Black Apalachi – a bold all-the-way winner from last year’s Aintree third, Snowy Morning, at Fairyhouse yesterday – heading the lists at 12-1. But Nicholls was delighted with his runner’s performance. He said: “I could have pulled him out today because on this ground he wouldn’t have had the tactical speed for this track but we’ve got a run into him, he now doesn’t have to go to Cheltenham and we can keep him fresh for the big one.”
Also heading for Aintree from Ditcheat is Herecomesthetruth, the first leg of a treble for Manor Farm, completed by Hebridean in the juvenile hurdle and King’s Legacy in the bumper. Though a novice, Herecomesthetruth has a date over the National fences in the Topham Trophy after demonstrating again a formidable jumping technique. “He’s a Battle Of Britain horse,” said owner Harry Findlay. “He wins it in the air.”