The fact of the old buildings at Wetherby being once used as a wartime hospital had a certain ring yesterday. In winning the Charlie Hall Chase, Weird Al put his career back on course after suffering a bone fracture, undergoing surgery to aid his breathing and recovering from an illness earlier this year. Time For Rupert, who finished second, was treated for a lung infection during the summer. And Diamond Harry, who would have started favourite had he run, missed the race after a minor injury to a leg during his overnight stay at the West Yorkshire track.
Weird Al, who was shaping to be one of the best staying novices two seasons ago before his first physical blip, was transferred last month by his owners from Ian Williams to the higher-profile operation of Donald McCain, who was quick to acknowledge his professional colleague after the eight-year-old's three and a half-length success.
"I can't take all the credit," he said. "He came to me looking a million dollars and this race had been his target since before he arrived. It's been well-documented that he is a horse with issues and we just needed to get him racing again before any plans could be made."
Timmy Murphy, in Weird Al's saddle for the first time, gave the 7-1 shot a peach of a ride, easing quietly into contention on the second circuit before heading Time For Rupert, the 11-8 market leader, two fences from home. He has been introduced into the market for the Cheltenham Gold Cup – in which he broke a blood vessel last season – at around 16-1.
Despite his defeat Time For Rupert remains at around 12-1 second choice behind Long Run for the Cheltenham crown. "Not too disappointed," said trainer Paul Webber of the seven-year-old, who made much of the running yesterday. "He'll tighten up a hell of a lot for that, and the winner is a decent horse."
No horse has yet won a Charlie Hall Chase and a Gold Cup in the same season. And if there was a challenge to Long Run's supremacy at the top of the chasing tree, it may be one further down the line. Restless Harry put his rivals to the sword in the Grade 2 feature hurdle, running as a stopgap as firm ground had thwarted his preparation as a chaser. After the seven-year-old came in 20 lengths clear of Fair Along under Henry Oliver, his trainer Robin Dickin echoed many thoughts when he said: "The sky could be the limit if he takes to fences."
Though good-class jumpers are starting to quicken interest in their branch of the sport, the mainstream Flat season is by no means done with yet. This afternoon at Leopardstown, Sea The Stars' two-year-old half-brother Born To Sea, favourite since his winning debut to emulate his celebrity sibling in the 2,000 Guineas, will face six rivals and a grandstand of expectation in the Killavullan Stakes. Then on Tuesday a record 11 European raiders will challenge for Australia's greatest prize, the Melbourne Cup; and on Friday and Saturday So You Think, Goldikova and Strong Suit lead the attack from these parts on the $25 million on offer at the 28th Breeders' Cup meeting at Churchill Downs.
Flat jockeys' champion Paul Hanagan, with a double at Ayr yesterday, goes into the final week of his title defence four ahead of Sylvestre de Sousa, who had a winner at Newmarket but will miss two days to ride at Flemington. The five-day ban Hanagan picked up when winning on Docs Legacy will not kick in until after their battle is over.
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