Age had its day here yesterday. In the main event, the Classic Chase, the 11-year-old d'Argent, a much-loved fixture in Alan King's yard, defied his years to go one better than his runner-up spot in the marathon contest three years ago. Half an hour later an even older favourite, Lord Oaksey, stood in the winner's circle as the owner-breeder of Carruthers, winner of the feature hurdle race.
The septuagenarian Oaksey, the finest amateur rider of his generation, has long left race-course action behind and d'Argent's effort – his fourth win at the track – put off his own retirement. In his two previous runs this season the grey had not been sighted and King said: "If he hadn't run well today, that would have been it. We've had him a long time and he doesn't owe us much. We thought we'd give it a go because he does love it here."
The fragile gelding – his careernumbers only 25 runs – had trailed in among the also-rans in last month's Hennessy Gold Cup but appreciated yesterday's drop in class to outslog another veteran, 12-year-old Philson Run, by seven lengths. "He's a horse you've just got to catch right," added King. "When we clipped him during the week he behaved like a bastard, I thought he might be feeling good."
Choc Thornton, in the saddle, tracked Naunton Brook before sending the 18-1 shot to the front seven out. "On one of his good days you don't have to do much," he said. "He likes to have a fence to aim at and if you just sit there and don't move he does the rest."
Philson Run, fourth in last year's Grand National, is another who has to be handled tenderly; he has raced only 15 times. "That says it all," said his trainer, Nick Williams. "Aintree is the target again and he might not run before then."
Naunton Brook plodded home third and only three others of the 13 starters finished the gruelling three-mile, five-furlong test. The favourite, Arnold Layne, was not among them; the nine-year-old failed to rise at the 14th fence while travelling easily alongside the winner. His rider, Tony McCoy, left the track on a stretcher and, though conscious and talking, was taken to hospital for precautionary X-rays.
Carruthers, trained by Mark Bradstock, put himself in line for a day out at Cheltenham in March when he upset the hotpots in the Leamington Novices' Hurdle. Mattie Batchelor set off in front on the five-year-old and, almost to his surprise, was 13 lengths clear at the line as neither Nenuphar Collonges or Souffleur, the drifting favourite, could reel him in. "I didn't think there'd be much pace," said the rider, "and [that] I might nick it from the front. All he does is stay." Carruthers will take his chance in the Festival's three-mile novice hurdle before embarking on a chasing career.
An excellent punters' guide is to back a jockey returning from injury to make a fairytale comeback, and yesterday it was Philip Hide who obliged on Verasi in the novices' chase. It was the 34-year-old's first ride since last February; after recovering from an injured shoulder he had to undergo surgery on a previously damaged hip.
At Kempton, Nycteos pro-vided the champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, with his usual lucrative Saturday winner when he took the Lanzarote Hurdle. The smart chaser, exploiting his favourable mark over the smaller obstacles, rallied gamelyto repel Kawagino.