They may be in the autumn of their careers, but they were spring-heeled in the spring sunshine yesterday. Eleven-year-olds Monkerhostin and Royal Auclair, the two oldest in the field, filled the first two places in the Bet365 Gold Cup.
Though victory for the 25-1 shot Monkerhostin may have been a surprise to punters – in 52 runnings of the traditional last big race of the jump season none has succeeded at longer odds, and this was his first success for two-and-a-half years – those closest to him at Philip Hobbs's yard never lost faith.
"He's just been such a fantastic servant to us for so many years," said his rider, Richard Johnson, "and at his best he's a really good horse. He loves this fast ground, and this isn't the first time he's run well here. He tries so hard and was just a pleasure to ride today."
Johnson kept Monkerhostin settled in the middle of the pack for most of the three-and-three-quarter miles, not moving towards the front rank until the third-last fence, at which point trailblazing Without A Doubt and Royal Auclair were in front. Monkerhostin led at the last and stayed on to beat Royal Auclair by two-and-a-quarter lengths.
It was the French-bred's 11th victory in a 52-race career that began on the Flat at Chantilly eight years ago, and brought his earnings for owner Martin St Quinton to more than £500,000.
On his previous run, at Cheltenham, Monkerhostin produced one of his few disappointing performances, but had a valid excuse. "He was coming down with something," said his trainer's wife, Sarah, "because he had a snotty nose afterwards. But we cleared that up, and he was back in good form. He's still got bags of enthusiasm and I don't think we'll be retiring him yet."
Royal Auclair, a 14-1 shot, was Paul Nicholls' perceived second string, but Harry Skelton brought him home a place ahead of his Ruby Walsh-ridden stablemate Hoo La Baloo (9-1), with the9-2 favourite Iris De Balme a head back in fourth after finishing strongly.
Yesterday was the end of the jump season, but any end-of-term notion is meaningless, as the new campaign starts today at Ludlow and Weatherby.
Nicholls rounded off his season by sending out Poquelin to win the Class Two Hurdle and Andreas was successful in the Celebration Chase. He has had the trainers' championship tied up for some time, and not only became the first to top £3 million in domestic prize-money but also breached the £4m barrier with earnings here and in Ireland. Champion owner David Johnson celebrated his title with a victory, his Mous Of Men taking the Handicap Hurdle.
The season's leading rider, Tony McCoy, was absent – like Hobbs, he was at Punchestown, where he could finish only fourth on Franchoek in the Grade One feature, behind Won In The Dark – but will begin the quest for a 14th crown at Ludlow today.
This Sandown meeting, one of the few mixed fixtures left in the calendar, has twice providedthe opportunity to see the winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Derby on the same afternoon. Time will tell whether yesterday was another.
Denman, paraded before racing, was certainly there, and in the Classic Trial the grey colt Centennial consolidated his position as Epsom third favourite with a determined all-the-way success. Jimmy Fortune took the initiative from the start and his partner saw off all comers, headed by Whistledownwind.
"This is a horse still on a learning curve," said his trainer, John Gosden, "and I liked his attitude and the way he saw it out."
Centennial gives Gosden a tremendous Classic hand; his stablemates include Raven's Pass and Infallible for next weekend's 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas and Dar Re Mi for the Oaks.