Though youth had its afternoon at Warwick yesterday as the novice chaser Shotgun Paddy belied his rookie status to see off a collection of hoary old handicapping hands in the Betfred Classic Chase, he rather took on the role of the man who shot Bambi's mother.
For the runner-up was the splendid veteran Carruthers, who – conceding age, weight and race-fitness to all his rivals – blazed such an effective trail in gruelling conditions that only one could get past him, and that not until the second-last of the 22 fences.
It was a heroic effort by the 11-year-old, who has a touch of class at his best but had not run since March last year, but also a remarkable performance from Shotgun Paddy on only his fourth run over fences at a track that takes few prisoners. Both horses were accorded a rousing reception for the stirring entertainment they provided.
Shotgun Paddy, a 9-1 chance, had six lengths to spare at the end of the three mile, five-furlong slog, but his rider, Leighton Aspell, admitted he did not think the prize might be his until the line was in sight. "He was very game and I was getting a lovely sighter at every fence, which is great for an inexperienced horse," he said. "But down the back and into the final bend I really didn't think I'd get past the leader. Then when we levelled up for home mine pricked his ears, so I knew I had a little in reserve."
Yesterday's tempering, including a surefooted recovery from a mistake at the last fence, will stand the Emma Lavelle-trained seven-year-old in good stead for his next assignment back against his peers, the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Being the moral victor rarely pays bills, but Carruthers's trainer, Mark Bradstock, could not have been prouder of the old warrior, winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup three years ago. "Second is sometimes the worst place to be," he said, "but it was great to see him still competitive. He jumps for fun and put them all, except one, to the sword."
It was a decent afternoon at the office for Aspell, who also took Warwick's Grade Two novices' hurdle – a contest won by Carruthers in his youth, and by one of this year's Champion Hurdle favourites, The New One, 12 months ago – on Deputy Dan for Oliver Sherwood's team.
At Kempton, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson took home a feature apiece: respectively the Lanzarote Hurdle with Saphir Du Rheu and the Tolworth Hurdle with a one-two from Royal Boy and Josses Hill. But over fences it was age and class that prevailed at the Sunbury venue, courtesy of a double from the Philip Hobbs stablemates Captain Chris and Planet Of Sound.
The former, beaten only a neck in the 2012 King George VI Chase, missed the latest renewal because of a minor injury but returned yesterday with a 23-length defeat of Champion Court, and may take his chance in the Gold Cup. Planet Of Sound, runner-up to Carruthers in his Hennessy, took the three-mile handicap, the 12-year-old's first success since a Grade One at Punchestown four years ago.
Sam Twiston-Davies was able to celebrate the latest step in his upwardly-mobile career, the plum ride on the Nicholls-trained Big Buck's for the peerless staying hurdler's long-awaited comeback at Cheltenham later this month with a winner, Millicent Silver, in the concluding Warwick bumper.
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