Though flashing-bladed brilliance has its place, they also serve who only grind and plod. The qualities needed to win a King George VI Chase and a Welsh National are very different, as Jim Dreaper noted at Chepstow. Though delighted that his charge Notre Pere had become the first Irish-trained winner of the principality's richest contest, he was refreshingly realistic about the seven-year-old's current limitations.
"He's a good old-fashioned staying chaser," he said, "and he's honest. But he's not too quick. In fact, if there's anything behind him in a workout at home, they'll either be lame or dead."
Notre Pere gave a hint of his ruggedness in March when he finished third in the Irish Grand National on only his sixth run over fences, and saw out yesterday's three-mile five-furlong slog much less slowly than his rivals and with stamina to spare, taking the £57,000 prize by seven lengths with his ears pricked.
The 16-1 victory was the culmination of a plan hatched by Dreaper's son and assistant, Tom, and the gelding's rider, Andrew Lynch. "They told me back in September that this was the race for him," said the trainer drily, "and who am I not to do what I'm told?"
Notre Pere had warmed up for his task by taking a high-class handicap at Navan last month, and had only two above him in the weights yesterday. He travelled comfortably mid-field as Joe Lively and Sherwoods Folly blazed the trail, moved into contention at the head of the long straight, and though he had Lynch at the buckle end with a stretching leap at the third last of the 22 fences, it was only a momentary blip.
Two out, he tackled Officier de Reserve and Sherwoods Folly before drawing smoothly away. And the race, first run in 1895, perhaps owed Dreaper one. Seventeen years ago he saw Carvill's Hill, resident in his yard at Kilsallaghan, Co Dublin until a few months before, win for Martin Pipe after a transfer of ownership.
Plans for Notre Pere, winner of a novices' Grade One at Leopardstown a year ago today, are measured; despitebeing introduced into the Grand National betting at around 20-1, he is unlikely to try to emulate the likes of Corbiere and Silver Birch by following up at Aintree, at least not yet. "If I have my way he won't run next year," said Dreaper. "He'll only be eight, and though he's an out-and-out stayer he's really only at the start of the learning curve. Maybe if we're all around the following year we'll think about it."
But the French-bred, whose pink Conway family colours have been carried with distinction by decent horsessuch as Harcon and Jim, may yet be given a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry. "He's not quite good enough to take on the very best horses at levels," added Dreaper. "But there's always the chance that we could get extreme conditions at Cheltenham, in which case we might regret not putting him in it."
A mistake by Officier de Reserve at the last cost him second place; he was relegated to fourth in the final strides by another Paul Nicholls inmate, Cornish Sett, and the gallant AlanKing-trained top-weight, Halcon Genelardais, who both finished with a flourish from off the pace.
It was a mixed day for Nicholls; his 16 runners in Wales, England and Ireland yielded just two winners, the Ruby Walsh-ridden Herecomesthetruth and Michel Le Bon at Chepstow, and a few disappointments, notably Twist Magic, behind the German raider Fiepes Shuffle at Kempton, and Natal, well beaten by Big Zeb at Leopardstown. But the champion trainer reported Kauto Star in rude health after his third consecutive King George win. "He's 100 per cent," he said. "He ate up and was bright as a button this morning."
The Boxing Day hero will not be seen in public again until he tries to win back his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown from stablemate Denman in March. "I've now learned that he is definitely so much better when he is fresh," added Nicholls, "and you saw the real Kauto Star on Friday. After he won at Down Royal first time out it took a while to get him back, and I should not have run him at Haydock."
Walsh admitted that he, too, is still learning about Kauto Star. The horse made an error at the last in his latest King George, just as he had in his first.
"Two years ago I was going into it on the wrong stride and I sat back and said, 'Woah', and he paddled it, and it was almost a disaster," said the jockey."This time I just kept squeezing him into it and let him sort himself out, which he did, really cleverly."
The Irishman was seen at his best on the quirky Herecomesthetruth, changing the horse's mind with a pre-emptive slap before he had time to even think of being naughty. The bad news for Walsh's fellow jockeys is that one of his Christmas presents was a Nintendo brain-trainer.
Denman is on schedule to make his reappearance after recovering from an irregular heartbeat in Newbury's Aon Chase in early February. The third member of Nicholls's Gold Cuptriumvirate, Neptune Collonges, is favourite for today's Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.Reuse content