Nobody can doubt that the best thing about this business is the horses, and certainly not anyone at Gowran Park yesterday. The conditions were filthy, with a hard, incessant rain falling from a cold, lowering sky. But the sight of an old brown gelding trotting back through the wet towards the winners' circle with what was easy to read as pride in his springy steps warmed every heart at the Co Kilkenny track. War Of Attrition, the 2006 Gold Cup hero, had just rolled back the years in the twilight of his most honourable career.
The gallant warrior is, at the age of 11, just two races away from retirement. And, as befits a star, he may yet go out on one of the glittering stages; his finale will be the Grand National.
His latest success, his 13th, came in the three-mile Galmoy Hurdle, and was a reminder of just how classy he once was over the smaller obstacles. He did, after all, beat all bar Brave Inca in the Supreme Novices' six years ago.
With the aid of cheekpieces for the first time, War Of Attrition jumped with all his youthful, ears-pricked elan for Slippers Madden throughout the Grade Two three-miler and left the smart Powerstation, third in last season's World Hurdle, toiling four lengths in his wake for his first victory for 14 months.
"I'd say I haven't had so much pleasure on a racetrack since he won his Gold Cup," said his trainer, Mouse Morris. "We've had some downers with him over the years but there was a real sparkle in him today. He's just a thoroughly nice horse to have on the place, a real pet in the yard."
War Of Attrition, the best horse to have carried the colours of Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, has had ongoing physical problems; he was sidelined by leg trouble in his prime and off the track for nearly two years. But though he was never as good after his rehabilitation, and some looked askance at his remaining in training, the canny Morris has long eyed Aintree as a target.
War Of Attrition was fancied for last year's National, backed to 12-1 before more niggles ruled him out, and has been introduced at around 25-1 for this year's marathon. "I'm sure he'd be competitive," said Morris, "and we'll keep tipping away with him towards Aintree and, if he runs, he'll be retired afterwards."
The veteran could make one last fairy-tale visit to the Cheltenham Festival; his National prep may come in the World Hurdle, for which he was one of 35 entries yesterday.
There was another nod to past glory at Gowran when Whinstone Boy landed a huge gamble to take the afternoon's feature, the Thyestes Chase. The three-miler has been won by the subsequent Grand National winners Hedgehunter and Numbersixvalverde in the past and yesterday's winner, backed from 14-1 to 5-1 during the morning, is trained by Jimmy Mangan, who sent out Monty's Pass to take the Aintree showpiece seven years ago.
Whinstone Boy, ridden by Sean Flanagan, is owned by three of the Monty's Pass syndicate from Northern Ireland. "I'd love to run him in the National," said Mangan of the nine-year-old. "He'll have an entry and if he doesn't get in this year, he'll go for the Topham, as the lads love Liverpool."
Timmy Murphy, winner of the National two years ago on Comply Or Die, became the ninth jump jockey to notch 1,000 winners in Britain when he reached the round-figure milestone on Ghizao and Wizard Of Edge at Taunton.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Brackenmoss (Catterick 1.50) Suited by a soft surface, is still relatively unexposed and her yard is in tremendous form.
Jim Tango (3.30 Catterick) Seemed revitalised last time by the application of blinkers and can make it two for two at today's track.
One To Watch
Marchand D'Argent (P J Hobbs) was well beaten after running fresh on his seasonal comeback at Kempton, but was progressive last spring and will be seen in a better light next time, particularly on better ground.
Where The Money's Going
William Buick is 25-1 with SkyBet for the Flat jockeys' championship after the news of his replacement of Jimmy Fortune as John Gosden's No 1, with Ryan Moore 2-5 favourite for his fourth title.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Prince Charlemagne (4.15 Lingfield).Reuse content