Those of us who were depicting Pandorama as some sort of inexorable new force on the steeplechasing scene, before his first visit to Britain last month, were soon made to look rather silly.
Off just 10st in the Hennessy Gold Cup, he nearly fell at the second, was nearly brought down at the fourth, and was tailed off when pulled up with a circuit to go. Any who kept the faith, however, were rewarded at Leopardstown yesterday when he won the Lexus Chase in the style of – well, an inexorable new force on the steeplechasing scene.
Judging from the betting, there were plenty who did give Pandorama another chance. Available at 8-1 in the morning, he was sent off 7-2 favourite and everything went like clockwork for Paul Carberry. Having jumped and galloped with conviction throughout, Pandorama was produced going strongly on the home turn and took over from a swarm of challengers at the last, before powering six lengths clear of Money Trix. The Listener faded into fifth, having gone with familiar zest in the lead, but Cooldine dropped away quickly after an uncharacteristic blunder on the far side, pulled up before the last.
Pandorama has only been beaten once when completing under Rules, when outpaced over hurdles by the outstanding Mikael d'Haguenet. Conceivably, he could yet redress the Festival misadventures notoriously endured by Noel Meade, over the years, by winning the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup itself. "We are back on track, and still dreaming of the Gold Cup," Pandorama's trainer said. "He worked very well at Dundalk last Thursday, with some good horses strung out behind him. That was only his fifth run over fences, so he's still improving."
Meade indicated that Pandorama is likely to return to Leopardstown for their own Hennessy Gold Cup, in February, but emphasised that he would never risk this heavy-shouldered creature on a fast surface. The going was very soft yesterday, following the abrupt disappearance of 10 inches of snow, and conditions are liable to be very different at Cheltenham – for which he is now quoted 14-1, from 33-1, by Totesport.
For a dyed-in-the-wool staying chaser, Pandorama remains auspiciously unexposed over three miles. In fact, he had only tried the trip for the first time when beating the subsequent RSA Chase winner in a Grade One novice at this meeting last year, only to miss the Festival with a setback.
The equivalent prize this time round, the Fort Leney Chase, proved a fairly undignified slog, but Bostons Angel at least showed due tenacity in holding on from Quito De La Roque, having first had to stem the rally of Thegreatjohnbrowne. Mourad made class tell, however, when ridden with his customary poise by Paul Townend in the Woodies Christmas Hurdle, pouncing late to beat Powerstation. Mossey Joe suffered his first defeat here, ultimately beating only one home, but he was just about going best on the turn and remains an intriguing prospect.
Mourad's trainer, Willie Mullins, reckons he will prove better again on decent ground and will train him for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival, for which the sponsors go 14-1 from 20-1. Mullins had earlier saddled an impressive winner of the maiden hurdle in So Young, who had previously won three bumpers in his native France.
Today the champion trainer of Ireland saddles another French import, Zaidpour, in the Paddy Power Future Champions' Novice Hurdle. Zaidpour has been dazzling in both starts over timber, albeit he still seemed to have a bit to learn about jumping at Fairyhouse last time, and will deservedly be short odds to dispose of just four rivals – even if one of them, Hidden Cyclone, himself remains unbeaten.
Mullins had two other very stylish winners on the same Fairyhouse card, and turns them both out again, as well: Hurricane Fly renews rivalry with Solwhit, while Golden Silver measures his progress against Big Zeb, winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The thaw in Britain has meanwhile produced corresponding dividends for Newbury, where an excellent card features the return of Punchestowns and, on the face of it, a lap of honour for Tony McCoy on Big Buck's in the rescheduled Long Walk Hurdle. McCoy will need to pass the doctor, however, having taken a fall from Kempes in the Lexus and left for the airport with a wrist strapped in ice.
Chris Mcgrath's Nap
Promising Anshan (2.45 Newbury) Not many miles on the clock and, built for fences, made a promising start to his chasing career here a couple of weeks ago, jumping well before challenging on the bridle and just tiring late on.
Distinctive Image (3.40 Wolverhampton) Lightly raced for this stable, he returned from a lay-off to see off all bar one at Lingfield earlier in the month. With a good profile on the all-weather, his top-class American pedigree gives him scope to progress again.
One to watch
Love You Louis (J R Jenkins) confirmed himself in top form at Kempton the other day, stifling strong competition for the lead and last off the bridle before just flattening out into fourth.
Where the money's going
Oscar Wells, impressive for Jessica Harrington at Navan before Christmas, is 20-1 from 25-1 with Paddy Power for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.