19 February 2006

Crossing a fence can be a hazardous business. Coming to the second last at Lingfield, Timmy Murphy and hot favourite Our Vic had their ridden rivals labouring. The trouble was the riderless Take The Stand. At the fence Our Vic swerved away from him and it took a moment of Murphy acrobatics to stay in the saddle.

That drama over, the much-discussed eight-year-old kept on handsomely to have six lengths to spare over My Will and Fondmort at the line.

Ever since he came from Ireland Our Vic has laboured under an almost insupportable reputation. When he lay for dead after pulling up at Cheltenham in 2005 it looked as if it had finished him. A brilliant return to that course this November was then blunted by a flop on the same track a month later. Now we are into Gold Cup talk again.

Bookmakers’ odds vary between 25-1 (Victor Chandler) and 16-1 (Paddy Power) but the gluepot conditions at Lingfield are unlikely to be replicated at the Cheltenham Festival in little more than three weeks’ time. Lingfield always tends to bog up in the winter and the advent of the all-weather course has not made the jumping surface any better. Sometimes yesterday, horses seemed to change their mind on how to jump on it. Hot favourite The Listener did so at half-way in the first and Take The Stand did the same at the last fence first time round in Our Vic’s race.

His jockey Tony Dobbin was catapulted into the soggy turf. For what seemed an age he lay agonisingly still until he got to his feet and walked gingerly to the ambulance. If ever there was a tip in a jockey’s mere presence in the saddle it must have been Dobbin hacking to the start on Take The Stand’s stable companion Zipalong Lad half an hour later. The horse won impressively, Dobbin, with the adrenalin running out of him said “this is the worst ground I have ever ridden on” and cried off for the afternoon.

But Timmy Murphy continued on profitably in the Our Vic colours of David Johnson when the ex-French Don’t Be Shy put himself in Cheltenham’s Arkle Chase picture with a convincing defeat of Armaturk and Mister McGoldrick. The earlier-stated caveats about different ground conditions at the Festival remain but this is obviously a talented young horse and as a leading Martin Pipe representative will be one to fear in the Arkle for which he is quoted as 9-1 behind favourite Racing Demon.

Don’t Be Shy’s success will have given Murphy a slightly mixed sort of satisfaction as he has always been the preferred jockey for Racing Demon but barring accidents is now likely to be claimed by David Johnson for the younger horse. But at least he is dealing with an embarrassment of riches, for other jockeys the afternoon featured hard work, long drives and disappointment.

Five minutes after the first at Lingfield, The Listener’s jockey Andrew Thornton was hurrying in muddy breeches to the car for the long drive west to ride See You Sometime in the big race at Wincanton. Half an hour later Joe Tizzard, second on both Bob Bob Bobbin and My Will, was following him for what seemed the much-coveted mount on leading Grand National candidate Silver Birch in the same Country Gentleman’s Association Chase.

See You Sometime ran with plenty of honour behind strong finishing All In The Stars but Silver Birch was a bitter, bitter disappointment. He has always shaped like an Aintree horse and his win round the course in the first half of last season made him National favourite. Yesterday he was never moving or jumping with any fluency and poor Joe had to pull him up long before the finish. The dreams, for a while at least, look over.

Across in Ireland Mac’s Joy continued to reinforce his Champion Hurdle claims with a fluent victory at Gowran Park and for romantics, his victory offers an even headier prospect. Trainer Jessica Harrington has been sensibly cautious about offering hostages to fortune, but the continued improvement in her horses offers huge hope for a return to form of her superstar Moscow Flyer. The old hero may be 12-years-old but if he strips bright and fit at Cheltenham no rival will find it easy. And the cheers could echo all the way back to Co Carlow.

Back at Lingfield they were doing their best to cope with the premise of taking on the mantle of Ascot (for the first two races) and Newbury for the fifth. But the corporate boxes made little concession to county etiquette. One was listed under ‘Beryl’s 60th’, another ‘Michelle’s Hen Party’. They didn’t mind if the going got heavy.

Ginger McCain sent out three winners yesterday but his hopes of landing an unprecendented fifth Grand National before he retires in the spring received two setbacks when Amberleigh House and Ebony Light both trailed home last in their respective races.

Amberleigh House, McCain’s 2004 Aintree hero, finished a long way behind Our Armegeddon in the Singer & Friedlander Handicap Chase at Uttoxeter, while Ebony Light appeared to sulk at the rear of the field and hung right throughout in the Red Square Vodka Gold Cup, won by Ossmoses at Haydock.

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