4 February 2001
Australian chaser is well beaten but catches the eye on his British debut
His ears are long, his feet are big but at the first fence, kangaroo he was not. Logician, the best steeplechaser in Australia, found the long journey from his home base at Kilmore, one-and-a-half hours from Melbourne, in peril at the very opening leap at Sandown Park yesterday.
“He’s a bit bold,” jockey Barry Fenton had said prophetically beforehand. “He has huge great ears like a mule and he carries his head a bit upright. When we schooled him he was pretty keen and went across them very quick. He needs to belt one and learn a lesson.”
As Logician galloped straight into the four foot of birch, it was a case of how severe the penalty would be?
Logician is a big, old-fashioned looking bay with almost sprinter, burly hindquarters and quite a clumping walk. Bred in New Zealand, he has a triangle of numbers tattooed on his right shoulder and yesterday carried the trademark white sheepskin noseband of his temporary Kingsclere base with Andrew Balding.
As the birch bit and gravity pulled, it looked as if the sheepskin would soon be rolling in the mud.
But he had not become the best in Oz, and won the same AV Hiskens Chase that the legendary Crisp took more than 30 years ago without learning a bit about self-preservation, and in Fenton he had an accomplished partner.
When a horse who is pulling belts the first, it takes limpet-like grip and balance not to be fired out into the wide blue yonder. As Logician took the impact, Barry forced his body down and into his horse. The long neck went out, the head came back up and as the saddle righted, so did the jockey, albeit with his right foot out of the stirrup.
Disaster had been diverted, but already last of the nine runners, with another two-and-a-quarter miles and 17 fences in front of him, ignominy could soon beckon.
Logician last ran (and won) on firm ground at Melbourne’s Moonee Valley back in September. Yesterday’s ground was so heavy that the Pond fence was omitted for having become much too close to its name.
Logician was keen to get on with it, his great head locking hard against Fenton’s rein. Wisely, the pilot held him back to keep the powder dry.
The jumping had been good but, coming past us at the open ditch in front of the stands, you could see the dangers Fenton was still running.
Logician wanted to go and rush his fences, Barry demanded restraint. So much so that as the field swung down and into the back straight, Logician had once again dropped back last, a full five lengths’ whipper-in.
From where we stood, embarrassment was close. Three fences come quickly, Logician jumped them well enough but he was just a bit player behind even the stragglers as star novice Best Mate stalked the leaders.
For a few moments it seemed we had probably indulged this Aussie dream long enough. Former schoolmaster Tony Noonan may have developed from a one-horse to a 120-horse handler in 10 years but entering this lumbering Joe for the Cheltenham Gold Cup was surely one dream too many.
Then, the old `kanga’ began to skip. Across the water he bounded, those enormous soup-plate feet seemed to have got wings on them after all. By the time he leapt the first of the three final Railway fences on the far side, he was closing fast enough to play a part. A bit too fast.
“He was getting quite a run on,” said Fenton afterwards. “I had jumped the previous fence good and quick but at the next he just galloped right into it. He was lucky to stand up.” Logician had been read his second lesson.
With that penalty paid, finishing at all was going to be a bonus. Up in front, Best Mate was simply cruising behind Hannigan’s Lodger and Crocadee.
In the end, Best Mate would leap spring-heeled clear of Crocadee at the last and gain an easy 13-length win at the line to have Mike Dillon of Ladbrokes waxing his moustache and offering him as short as 6-4 for the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham. Any price Logician for the Gold Cup?
Peering with shakey binoculars from a wobbly step ladder at the final fence, little signs of hope began to sprout. For Logician was not finishing like an exhausted horse. Fenton was still keeping a firm hold of his burly partner but, coming to the last, he could see a long stride, ask for it and get an answer. Best Mate may have already got halfway to the winner’s enclosure as Logician came home fourth but here was a horse for another day.
In the unsaddling ring Andrew Balding produced his mobile phone, pressed a button and handed it to Fenton. The young Irishman put his soaking saddle and weight cloth over his left arm, took the phone in his right hand and the wonders of modern technology meant he was giving trainer Noonan a 3am debrief Down Under.
“I told him I have never known a horse make two such bad mistakes and still run respectably,” he explained later. “He will come on a huge amount for this. He will probably have another run in a couple of weeks. And I can tell you,” he added with admirable candour, “he’s a lot better than I thought he was.”
Whether Logician is a genuine Gold Cup contender is a much stiffer question.
Ladbrokes have him at 100-1 but at least the dream still lives, which is more than you can say for French-trained Cheltenham hopes Ben Ewar and Gun’n Roses who only beat one horse home between them in other Sandown races.