7 December 2003

The Jessica Harrington-trained gelding shows just why he is the champion with an impressive victory

No one on the deck, but no one left in the argument: Moscow Flyer came to Sandown as the champion two-mile chaser. By the finish of the William Hill Tingle Creek Chase, all the contenders had bent the knee.

Four lengths and seven lengths were the official distances that Azertyuiop and Flagship Uberalles had to accept for their second and third positions. But this was a race to hail a star, a horse race when the cliche “swinging off him” really did apply as we saw how much horse Barry Geraghty had beneath him as the seven runners stepped up the pace towards the end of the back straight.

Make that six runners. On the way to the start Eskleybrook must have heard that he was a 100-1 outsider because once there he had no intention of facing the tapes and only consented to carry poor Robert Biddlecombe forwards when the others were far enough out of sight for no serious racing to be involved. And with last year’s winner Cenkos setting a proper gallop, serious is just what this was going to be.

Sandown does nothing better than the Tingle Creek. The very best two-mile chasers winging round those 13 fences well under the four-minute barrier. The seven fences down the back stretch come up three and three with the water stretched out in the middle of them. The horses are going at them at 35 miles an hour and the first trio come so close together that miss one and you usually miss all three. Moscow Flyer was not perfect at the first but spring-heeled leaps at the next two swatted off rising hopes of his rivals.

Over the water and the next cluster come at you even quicker. On Cenkos you could see Timmy Murphy’s elbows already giving distress signals. Ruby Walsh looked cool enough on Azertyuiop, the young contender, but was having to get a little flat to hold his place. Up the outside old Flagship Uberalles was upping spinnaker with much of the flair that brought him three consecutive Tingle Creeks in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Then you looked again at the way Cenkos’s white sheepskin nose band was swinging from side to side. Yes, Barry Geraghty was really having to steady him to avoid hitting the front too soon. Going to the fourth last he could wait no longer. “I had to let him go and jump,” he said afterwards. Moscow Flyer swept ahead, in, out and over. He had played his first and biggest trump.

From then on in it was just a game of pursuit. Flagship Uberalles on the outside and Azertyuiop battled to close at the Pond Fence, three from home. But Moscow Flyer stretched out athletically round the last turn to take total control up the straight. Azertyuiop never gave up trying and afterwards trainer Paul Nicholls talked up his chances of revenge in Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase with a defiant cry of “four lengths is nothing and for us this was effectively the first race of the season.” But yesterday the champion didn’t just look the best. He looked awesome.

Moscow Flyer is not the biggest horse in the world, just 16 hands at the shoulder, but he is long and athletic and as his jumping technique has become more expert (he dumped Geraghty over the side in a collision in this race last year) he has emerged into the real deal. “The funny thing is that he couldn’t win his bumper when he started,” said his beaming trainer Jessica Harrington afterwards, “but once he began over hurdles he seemed to click. There have been one or two hiccups in his jumping but he is pretty complete now.”

Indeed, this was Moscow Flyer’s 18th success and with four glitches over fences he remains undefeated in all 11 of his completed steeplechases. At nine, he is now in his absolute prime but still with enough runs on the board for the young contenders like Azertyuiop to consider it worth pitching in when the championship is again on the line at Cheltenham next March.

One horse who now looks unlikely to be there is the 1999 Gold Cup winner See More Business, who finished a leg-weary and elderly fourth behind the magnificently muscled Sir Rembrandt at Chepstow. Sir Rembrandt is still only seven and has a huge future ahead of him, as has also been predicted for the same aged Keen Leader but Jonjo O’Neill’s potential star got rid of his jockey for the third time yesterday.

Mind you, time was when See More Business was a bit of a fence destroyer. But if, turning 14, his connections think that 18 wins from 36 races over nine seasons for almost £700,000 prize money is enough, no one will begrudge them. Horses like See More Business live long in the memory. Moscow Flyer has joined their number and, best of all, still has promises to keep.

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