When it comes to the production of drama, horses take no notice of the scripts we provide for them. As Zenyatta proved at Churchill Downs on Saturday so, a million metaphorical miles from that glittering stage, did Medermit here yesterday at the equine equivalent of local rep, fluffing his lines big time.
The highly rated young chaser from the powerful Alan King yard was sent off at 1-5 favourite to make it two from two over fences against three inferior rivals and looked set for rave reviews as he bounded powerfully over the first five obstacles in the lead. His leap over the open ditch in front of the grandstands cut particular dash; he was foot-perfect, and a handsome picture with the pale dapples on his dark grey coat glinting in the fading winter light as he galloped.
Two fences later, it was a case of, "We'll call you". Four strides from take-off, the six-year-old's head went up, he went sideways and, losing all forward momentum, flopped to an undignified halt in front of the birch as the pursuing trio went past, over and away.
His rider, the hapless and blameless (when half a ton of horse decides so quickly to stop, not even the top half of a centaur could do anything about it) Wayne Hutchinson, could do nothing but turn away and begin the slow walk of shame back towards the unsaddling area. "I think a couple of attendants standing close to the fence just caught his eye and took his attention," he said, "and took his mind off jumping."
King tried to console Medermit's shell-shocked owners. "At moments like this," he said, "you have to decide whether to laugh or cry. I vote we laugh."
Medermit has now lost his position as early favourite for the two-mile novices' crown at the Cheltenham Festival, the Arkle Trophy. He had been as short at 8-1 and is now double that, with Celestial Halo, Get Me Out Of Here and Loosen My Load jostling for market leadership.
King, though, is just relieved that the horse will have the chance to redeem himself. "When I saw him falter I thought something had gone horribly wrong physically," he said. "He's the last horse I would have expected to do something like that. Next time, we'll make sure he doesn't set the pace and has a lead. He's not really normally a front-runner but in a small field we didn't want a false pace and thought we'd let him stride on. And for a while it was all going so well."
There was sensation, too, at the business end of the race. Sergeant Pink passed the post a neck in front of Harry Tricker, only for the stewards to reverse the placings after an inquiry, deciding that Sergeant Pink, whose saddle had started to slip under rider Tom Scudamore approaching the final obstacle, had intimidated his rival during their battle to the line. And there may be another act to the tale, as Sergeant Pink's trainer, Steve Gollings, intends to appeal against the decision.
One player, better known in another genre, made a rare guest appearance at his little local jumping track during the afternoon. The race that caused the furore was run in memory of the late Newmarket trainer Tom Jones and the town's great and good turned out for the occasion. Among them was Sir Michael Stoute, who reported that Workforce had returned safely yesterday from his non-appearance at Saturday's Breeders' Cup. "He'll be with us all winter," he said, "and next year we'll try again and see what we can do."
At another provincial theatre, Bangor, apprentice jockey Chris Timmons incurred the wrath of his audience as, through poor timing, he lost a race he should have won. Riding Jeanry, the 4-1 second favourite for a handicap hurdle, he was well clear and cruising jumping the last but started to pull up too soon and was caught in the final strides by the rallying Monsieur. The stewards there took a dim view and gave the young man a 28-day ban for his bumbling performance.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Matsunosuke (4.50 Wolverhampton) Veteran sprinter who has done most of his winning on artificial surfaces and is a cut above this grade. Can follow up last month's narrow but comfortable course success.
Beggar's Opera (5.20 Wolverhampton) Still unexposed after four runs and has shaped with promise in his two handicap outings, showing determined attitude after being hampered last time.
One to watch
Novice chaser Stoney's Treasure (A King) travelled smoothly until tiring last week at Fontwell, on what was both his fencing and seasonal debut.
Where the money's going
Irish raider Finger Onthe Pulse, winner of the Galway Plate in July, has been cut from 33-1 to 20-1 for Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup by the sponsors.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Rebel Du Maquis (1.40 Taunton)