GUNNER SEES OFF RIVALS FOR GRAND VICTORY

21 November 2004

Brough Scott watches the Aintree specialist give claiming jockey Peter Buchanan the ride of a lifetime over the National fences

AINTREE Aintree can be the worst place in the world if your horse does not adapt to the unique fences. If he does, it can be heaven. That’s what as claiming jockey Peter Buchanan found with the ride of a lifetime on Forest Gunner to win the Grand Sefton.

The last time Forest Gunner was here he was winning the Fox Hunter’s under an inspired ride from trainer Richard Ford’s wife, Carrie. Yesterday the big white-blazed chesnut once again reduced Becher’s Brook, The Chair and the other fearsome Aintree names to little more than a decent-sized hedge you might find out hunting – up until we are all criminalised, of course. Another Joker had been up front for a long time but once Becher’s claimed him, Forest Gunner always looked too strong for Asparagus and the grey Flinders Chase.

The Grand National itself has to now be the obvious target for a horse who handles himself so easily round this track. But Richard Ford would not immediately commit himself, relying on the oldest and happiest of winner’s circle cliches “that was the plan.”

The same line could have been uttered by Paul Nicholls after Le Roi Miguel showed how much he had benefited from a breathing operation in the summer by coming home powerfully to take Huntingdon’s Peterborough Chase. The race lost much of its interest after Henrietta Knight chose to withdraw the four-times Peterborough Chase winner Edredon Bleu because of the testing ground. With his defection, the white nose-banded Farmer Jack took over from the early pacemakers in the back straight to see if he could draw the sting from Hand Inn Hand and Le Roi Miguel.

A week ago Farmer Jack’s nasty fall at Cheltenham’s second-last was compounded by him also being knocked flat by a following horse as he tried to rise. To his credit he attacked his fences with relish and with all but perfect footing. He got Hand Inn Hand in trouble but by the time they made the turn for home with just two fences left to jump, the deadly stillness of Ruby Walsh’s back were telling the most important story.

Two years ago Le Roi Miguel was a highly promising hurdler and although he seemed to lose his way a little last season, the breathing operation looks as if it has given him back his former touch. It was the sort of day when losing a battle up front left you absolutely legless and that certainly happened to Hand Inn Hand, who not only dropped away from Farmer Jack but also could not retain third place from Hot Shots.

Heavy conditions prevailed everywhere, not least at Windsor where Robert Thornton had a double on Reveillez and Massac. Reveillez benefited from blunders from Finely Tuned and Gold Ring and it was the mistakes of others which gave Thornton his double. Three fences out in the Life From Coloroll Chase, the hard-pulling Non So turned over, leaving Thornton and Massac to plod on in front of Mondial Jack.

It was the sort of day which made you want to hasten home to the fireside but news which may prove significant for the rest of the winter and even for spring days at Cheltenham was the successful chasing debut of the former top-class hurdling mare Like-A-Butterfly. It is 595 days since Like-A-Butterfly was last in action but she jumped beautifully for Conor O’Dwyer at Naas despite being 25 kilos above her ideal racing weight.

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