23 November 2008

For  Sam Thomas, last year’s Kauto Star dream became this November’s nightmare. At the final fence in last November’s Betfair Chase at Haydock Park he was a poised figure about to pass his first great test as substitute for Ruby Walsh. This time he was substitute again but was pumping away alongside long-time leader Tamarinbleu. And it was going to get worse.

Under pressure Kauto Star threw in a big, stretching leap but then did the splits so badly in his recovery stride that he tossed Thomas up round his ears and then shook him like a rag doll to the turf. Tiredness began to claw at Tamarinbleu and Snoopy Loopy battled through for a shock victory at 33-1. Back at the last Thomas stood up and the pain flooded in. It wasn’t to his body.

Just seconds earlier, he had survived a terrible blunder at the third last fence and as he hurled his famous partner forwards it looked as if he could pull this out of the fire. Now it was all gone. The dreams, and his part in them, of Kauto Star reviving his former sense of invincibility, hung empty in the freezing Haydock air.

To the outsider Kauto Star had seemed much of his old majestic self, mixing extravagantly long leaps with highly organised short ones when the stride was in tight. But in the saddle it had not felt so perfect. Twice down the backstretch Thomas smacked Kauto Star down the shoulder to keep momentum up. As he chased Tamarinbleu round the final turn he seemed poised again but when he went to attack up the inside at the third last things were suddenly more difficult.

On a long stride Kauto Star reverted to one of his flawed leaps. Now it was tough. Thomas pulled him wide. He had him running. He might still win. But it would have to be ugly. “We have had our ups and downs with him before,” said trainer Paul Nicholls with sensible philosophy. “He can’t be at his very best every single day. Kempton and King George day is another matter.”

Few have ever worked harder for victory than Snoopy Loopy and Seamus Durack. The chunky chestnut was producing a career-best performance in this his 12th run and fifth victory during the calendar year. “He has kept improving,” said west Wales trainer Peter Bowen, “I didn’t think he would be disgraced today and we may now have to go for the Hennessy next week.”

All five of Snoopy Loopy’s 2008 successes have come in the tough and stubborn hands of 33-year-old Durack who, with his thinning, grey-streaked hair and much broken right leg, looks 43 but yesterday rode 23. There have been times when it seemed that only a futile cussedness kept the doctor’s son from Tipperary from sensible retirement. Even after months and months of rehab on his broken thigh and refashioned hip he would come into the paddock with an almost Long John Silver limp. But spirit is everything. “I got a book on dance and posture,” he said with a cracked tooth smile. “To team up with this horse at this stage is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Despite the cold, Champion Hurdle hope Binocular had somehow managed to work up more of a sweat in the paddock before the Betfair Hurdle than he did in effortless victory under Tony McCoy. He will carry warm hopes to the next Cheltenham meeting but nothing anywhere will match the dogged, heart-stirring indomitability which was Seamus Durack and a horse called Snoopy Loopy.

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