19 November 2000
Cheltenham title-holder turns in a brilliant front-running display on his Down Royal reappearance
NORTHERN IRELAND re-claimed its own yesterday when Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Looks Like Trouble, bred just 10 minutes away at Scava, put up a truly brilliant performance in the £110,000 James Nicholson Champion Chase at Down Royal. Local bookie Sean Graham briefly priced him up at 6-1 for next year’s Gold Cup afterwards before a flood of money cut him to 7-2 favourite ahead of great rival See More Business.
It is easy to get over-excited in the hour of triumph, particularly when there is a full 15 lengths to the second horse, Dorans Pride, while joint favourite Florida Pearl blew out so completely over the last three fences that he could not even muster enough of a gallop to hold third place on the run in. But for Looks Like Trouble, jumping with spectacular spring-heeled elan yesterday, “exciting” was exactly the word.
“Yes, it’s so exciting to ride a horse like him,” said jockey Richard Johnson as he came back from his first mount on this track tucked in flat and boggy countryside between Lisburn and Lurgan in County Down and, before the nearby jail took its nickname into notoriety, always formerly referred to as The Maze. For all his five consecutive hundreds, 22-year-old Richard has the best yet to come and at eight years old with seven wins and almost £400,000 in prize-money, the same can be said for Looks Like Trouble.
In the paddock beforehand his bay coat gleamed with shiny supple health, his white nose-banded head a picture of elegance that outshone his rivals. Doran’s Pride has won 30 races and over half a million £but he seemed smaller and slighter by comparison. Florida Pearl has nine races and £440,000 as well as the mantle of Ireland’s top chaser. He is the largest of them all, a fine big upright old-fashioned stamp of chaser. But his skin didn’t gleam, he did not have the sleek racing lines of the horse who beat him in that great Cheltenham showdown last March.
Down Royal is a big sweeping track, almost two miles in circumference and somehow recovered from a foot of flooding just a week ago. Once the tape went up the pattern was immediately set. Richard Johnson sent Looks Like Trouble ahead, Paul Hourigan sat a couple of lengths off him on Dorans Pride while Ruby Walsh stalked the pair, hopeful of saving Florida Pearl’s renowned finishing kick.
Such a procession, with Dorans Pride’s stablemate Inis Cara in fourth and outsider Buck Rogers whipping in, might have given a boring predictability to this first circuit. Not with this leader, not with this crowd. At fence after fence Looks Like Trouble came up like a soaring gazelle. And as the five-horse pack swept past the winning post first time, the 10,000 crowd gathered for the so energetically promoted Northern Ireland Festival of Racing, gave up a huge spontaneous cheer just for the thrill of seeing them there. You don’t get that at Ascot.
Up in front Richard Johnson was being allowed to dictate his own pace and his partner was revelling in it. The Americans have a great phrase for this. They call it “walking the dog.” But as they spun past the starting post a second time it was time to make the “dog” do a bit of running. With considerable skill and confidence Johnson gradually wound up the pace so that by the time they got to the fourth-last fence there would be no room for errors. Another lightning-quick jump here and suddenly Dorans couldn’t handle it and, even more surprising, Florida Pearl also looked in trouble.
“The Pearl” had seemed to be moving so easily that Looks Like Trouble’s trainer Noel Chance was worried that Johnson had not shaken up the leader a bit earlier. But now Ruby Walsh’s elbows were giving out tell-tale signs of urgency, Johnson was clamping in tightly to the horse. At the third-last fence the leader threw in another extravagant leap and the race was effectively over.
To trainer Noel Chance’s great credit Looks Like Trouble ran on like only a fit horse can. “His jumping almost frightened me at times,” he said. “Maybe it is because he was a bit fresh. But I hope now he will get the credit he deserves. His next target is either the King George at Kempton or the Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown. But the real aim is to beat See More Business and the others again at Cheltenham.”
Without straying too far into the political arena, it is unhappily ironic that this largest of Northern Ireland’s two racetracks gets no money from the British Horserace Levy Board although the British government takes no less than 14.5 million in betting tax a year. Settlements up here need to take racing in too. For the meantime let Looks Like Trouble wave the flag.
Tony McCoy was at his brilliant best on Upgrade as trainer Martin Pipe landed his second consecutive Saturday big race in the First National Gold Cup Chase at Ascot.
The gelding, who bypassed the Thomas Pink Gold Cup won by stablemate Lady Cricket last week, got the better of fellow 7-4 joint-favourite Bellator by a neck in a thrilling finish.
Pipe was quick to praise McCoy, who was riding the second leg of a 15-1 treble and had scored aboard the trainer’s Carlovent at the course on Friday.
“Tony McCoy – he was good yesterday and he was even better today,” he said.
At Aintree, Young Kenny provided trainer Peter Beaumont with an emotional success in the Tote Becher Chase.
Beaumont’s wife Margaret died two weeks ago and racegoers gave him and Young Kenny a Grand National-style reception as the nine-year-old returned to the winner’s enclosure in the hands of Russ Garritty after a gritty win over Ardent Scout.