reports from Huntingdon
National Hunt racing's capacity to chill the extremities while warming from within was gloriously available here yesterday. On a filthy afternoon at Brampton three of the country's leading speed fencers provided a contest to savour in the Peterborough Chase.
Travado was the winner, by a neck from Martha's Son while Coulton was clambering to his feet after a last-fence fall. For many reasons it is unlikely a result like this will be seen again. Martha's Son would arguably have won this encounter had the second-last obstacle not appeared to enter his blind spot, and it seems he will not get the chance of revenge.
While the eight-year-old is likely to be stepped up in distance, Travado will be on the other side of the road.
The latter's aversion to soft ground is such that this may be his last run until the days start getting longer. If the ground is soft over the winter months the Cheltenham Festival will be his next port of call. That would be a shame for racegoers as the nine-year-old is a magnificent beast, an animal who seems to know he is at the peak of the game by the way he carries his head aloft in the preliminaries.
Martha's Son, on the other hand, cowered around the parade ring yesterday, his head low. The third big gun, Coulton, looked vaguely disinterested even though the power of his huge backside (the sort Test match bowlers are supposed to possess) is always the overriding feature.
Coulton shook himself sufficiently to lead from the outset with Travado on his tail and Martha's Son the stalker. Going down the far side for the second time the trio grouped up and on the turn in there were few in the stands who had discarded their tickets.
But then Martha's Son distributed greenery at the second last and Coulton made an even worse mess of the final obstacle.
Once again this was a huge disappointment to Coulton's trainer, Oliver Sherwood, who witnesses a brilliant horse on the gallops. "We have either found the limit with the horse or there is something wrong with him," Sherwood said. "It's frustrating because at home he makes Large Action look like a selling plater. He's a world beater on the gallops but you only seem to get disappointed with these flying machines."
Martha's Son, though, is no great shakes at home and struggles to make a race of it with his half-sister Martha's Daughter, who was a badly beaten favourite in the preceding hurdle yesterday. This discrepancy between performance on the gallops and the race-track has persuaded Tim Forster, who trains the pair, that punting is not for him. "If I was a betting man I'd be in debtors jail by now," he said. "My horse has run a hell of a race, not that I saw much of it," he added. "I was shaking too much. He used to be a terrible tearaway but he's settled so well now."
Consequently, Martha's Son will be entered for the King George VI Chase where he may meet Coulton (and by which time Rodney Farrant, who received a two-day ban yesterday for use of the whip, will be back to resume the partnership).
Forster, however, is not looking too far forward, certainly not to the Festival. "The Chinese might be here by then," he said.
Travado will definitely not be at Kempton and ground considerations limit his options. But yesterday's venture had been pencilled in for some time though, despite the unusually strong competition.
"We would all like to have pussy-footed around the country finding two- horse races, but it wasn't to be," Nick Henderson, the gelding's trainer, said. "Hugo [Bevan, the clerk of the course] didn't have to waste 26p on phoning me."
Travado's performance was an advertisement not only for the skills of Henderson, but also his jockey, Richard Dunwoody, who galvanised his mount to great effect on the run-in. Dunwoody's form is such that he was the first man approached yesterday morning for the ride on One Man, the favourite for Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup. The grey's usual partner, Tony Dobbin, is hors de combat following a fall on Monday.
If Dunwoody is to ride One Man, he will have to slide on his knees before Jim Dreaper, who has booked him to ride Merry Gale at Punchestown the same day. A more solid arrangement for the race emerged yesterday when Dean Gallagher's name was inked in alongside Charlie Brooks's Couldnt Be Better.
n Wolverhampton has cancelled its four Saturday night fixtures in January and February because of the high cost of keeping the course frost free when the temperature plummets after dark in winter.Reuse content