29 February 2004

Brough Scott watches Nicky Henderson’s 12-year-old roll back the years with a thrilling victory in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton

Age is passing, class is permanent. Marlborough, at 12, may be in racing’s veteran stage but in the Racing Post Chase he rolled the years back at Kempton. Time was when Marlborough was a major contender for the biggest prizes on the National Hunt calendar. Only a season ago he stretched Best Mate to the limit in the King George VI Chase on this same track and distance. But he was only fifth in the big Boxing Day race this time. He may be on the wane but he’s not on a toboggan yet.

For with age has come wisdom. In earlier times to mention Marlborough was to think of dangerous jumping. He was racing’s version of a dangerous conveyance, you were never safe until the last fence was jumped. The older Marlborough may not be as fast as the first one but he’s a lot more careful.

“He was an armchair,” said winning rider Ruby Walsh, who proved a very able deputy for Marlborough after original partner Barry Fenton was injured in an earlier contest. “I’ve only been on him twice but he’s quite straightforward now. You have to play with the card you are dealt. He still has plenty of class.”

In a race reduced from 18 runners to 11, Richard Johnson, on the 2002 winner Gunther McBride, attacked from the start with Hunters Tweed and Shardan in close attendance and Marlborough stalking the pack. As they swung for home nothing seemed to be going better than Horus, one of Martin Pipe’s four runners, but the second last proved an obstacle too far and he gave young Jamie Moore a horrific-looking fall.

Horus galloped home unscathed, but there was no such luck for stable companion Shooting Light who broke a hind leg mid-race and had to be put down. Shooting Light began his career as a hugely talented hurdler and has continued through the usual vicissitudes of the jumping game to return triumphantly after a 14-month absence at Newbury recently. He was a horse who evoked huge affection and pride from his connections down the years and none more so than his owner the newly-retired William Hill supremo John Brown. John has had many successes but he would have passed up many to avoid yesterday’s unhappiness.

Up in front Gunther McBride was being taken on by the pink Robert Ogden jacket of Ruby Walsh on Marlborough. Going to the last you would have had doubt in the past. Now there was nothing but a flowing certainty as the old horse swept in an over and came impressively away from Gunther McBride and Iznogoud, a stable companion of both Horus and Shooting Light.

The selection of Iznogoud enabled Sir Clement Freud to win the sponsors’ trip to the Singapore’s Airline Gold Cup in May. Sir Clement has always been a perfectionist. Singapore Airlines’ so far excellent in-flight service will no doubt ready itself for the onslaught.

Amongst the withdrawals from the Racing Post Chase was Marlborough’s stable companion Irish Hussar. Significantly their trainer Nicky Henderson spoke impressively about the absentee. “Irish Hussar will go for the Cathcart at Cheltenham this time. But I would fancy him to give weight to Marlborough and a Gold Cup attempt in the future is not beyond him.”

Ah yes, Cheltenham, everything now leads towards it. Henderson has long set his stable’s standard by what he achieves at the Festival. In the race after the Racing Post Chase he saddled Calling Brave to run out an impressive winner and book his own ticket for the Sun Alliance. It is 17 days away and counting.

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