Noland victory a tonic for Thomas

For Sam Thomas, the race was about renewing belief; for Mouse Morris, in contrast, it became a test of faith. Either man, however, could easily correct any loss of perspective if pausing to consider the name on the trophy they both sought at Punchestown yesterday.

The John Durkan Memorial Chase commemorates the young man who fancied that a horse named Istabraq might make a serviceable foundation stone for his training career. Durkan was then diagnosed with leukaemia, and the horse was stabled with Aidan O'Brien, pending his recovery. By the time Istabraq had won the first of his three Champion Hurdles, Durkan was dead.

Ten years later, the cruelty of his loss still seems fresh to his many friends in racing. Certainly it reproves the hysteria prompted by the recent travails of Thomas, the young rider who has already won a Gold Cup despite still being in the early stages of his own career.

His success on Nolan yesterday reminded everyone – not least Thomas himself – that he has not become a second-rate jockey as suddenly as he emerged, last season, as a legitimate substitute for Ruby Walsh. This time last year, when Walsh was injured, Thomas had a charmed run on horses trained by their employer, Paul Nicholls. This time round, with Walsh again sidelined, so many things have gone wrong that Nicholls could not face Thomas riding Master Minded at Sandown last Saturday, instead summoning Tony McCoy.

Whatever might be said of the way he has been riding, or indeed the way he has been treated, yesterday represented an authentic new start for Thomas. Noland, still a novice last season, jumped confidently and took over when The Listener blundered four out. As things turned out, he was probably in front long enough, The Listener rallying on the flat, but Thomas was not going to let this one slip through his grasp and held on by half a length.

"It's really great for Sam to get a Grade One winner under his belt," Nicholls said. "This will get his confidence back. Noland jumped very well and, though he idled in the closing stages, that was to be expected – and the ground was probably not ideal for him.

"The owner [John Hales] was keen to go for the King George, but we have persuaded him to wait a season and stick to middle distances for the time being. His main aim is the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, and the plan is for him to have one run beforehand."

Nicholls thanked the course management for salvaging the race after frost claimed Sunday's card. Whether War Of Attrition was quite so grateful is another matter, as he has now been beaten in this race three times. On that basis, it might be hasty to assume that the 2006 Gold Cup winner's revival, after a 22-month absence, is now over.

Morris had brought him back to win two lesser races this autumn, but War Of Attrition has never been entirely at home on ground as testing as this. Indeed, he was beaten out of sight here, in similar conditions, barely three months before he won the Gold Cup. At least he travelled strongly, this time round, before failing to pick up and finishing more than seven lengths away in third place.

Noland is now the Tote's 9-2 joint-favourite with Tidal Bay for the Ryanair Chase, and it was interesting to hear Nicholls again proposing a very light Festival preparation. He seems increasingly satisfied that the best way to prime horses is up and down that precipice of his, back in Somerset.

The same is true of many other trainers, thanks to modern facilities and methods. As a result, it must be said, the shadow cast over the calendar by the Festival grows ever longer. Yesterday, for instance, Nicky Henderson disclosed that he hopes to keep Binocular, the inexperienced Smurfit Champion Hurdle favourite, fresh for March after the Boylesports Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.

Henderson added that he has settled on a comeback target for Trabolgan, namely a handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday week. Trabolgan looked a Gold Cup horse in the Hennessy three years ago, but has not been seen since. It is so long ago, in fact, that War Of Attrition had yet to win his Gold Cup. By the standards of jump racing, never mind those of outright tragedy, Thomas should comfort himself that even the slowest fortnight scarcely qualifies as a wilderness.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back