25 February 2001

Henry Daly’s gelding is a brave winner of the Racing Post Chase, but the runner-up gets his share of the plaudits too

If you had seen trainer Ted Walsh’s face after Commanche Court’s fast-finishing second to brave Young Spartacus in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton yesterday. He is Gold Cup bound.

As Festival fever catches (and the Gold Cup itself is two weeks on Thursday) all sorts of unlikely dreams take flight and the fact that Ladbroke’s now go as short as

12-1 tells you that Commanche Court is a long way from being the unlikeliest.

“It’s a stiffer finish he wants,” said Ted as he hurtled down the stairs four at a time. “Think of Cheltenham, quarter of a mile further and coming up the hill.” On official ratings Commanche Court still has nearly a stone to find but he is nothing if not tough and versatile. If he was still in contention at the last fence in the Gold Cup nothing in front of him would be safe.

Yesterday Commanche Court still had three quarters of a length to find after a dramatic closing chapter. For the long-time pacemaker and former errant jumper Tremallt had led and leapt like a reformed character right up to the final obstacle. Young Spartacus, Dark Stranger and the favourite Struggles Glory were all at him and bad habits reverted to bring him crashing down.

Young Spartacus was away and clear, his head set out, Richard Johnson asking and Commanche Court catching a wet sail as the post came in sight. Looking from the stand there was never really any danger. Looking at the blood coming from Young Spartacus afterwards you could see the strain he was under.

“He burst right at the end,” said jockey Richard Johnson. “He has walked back OK. But you can feel how hard he has tried.” Johnson had a relieved look on his face. He too had seen the pictures from Haydock of Young Kenny suffering a fatal injury.

The eight-year-old Young Spartacus’s three wins this season have been very much the highlight of what has been up to now quite an ordinary time for the Henry Daly stable. In his whole career Young Spartacus has won nine of his 20 races and over £130,000 for the Hellyer family from Oakham in Rutland.

Bart Hellyer is in a wheelchair from a riding accident but as an international lawyer specialising in personal injuries can see all the arguments for the thrills as well as the dangers of National Hunt racing. “It’s such fun to have a horse you have bred come through and win a race like this,” he said. “These are special days and not ones we are ever going to forget.”

Foot and mouth disease permitting, real prospects for Cheltenham emerged in the other races. First Ballot overcame trainer David Elsworth’s pessimism to slaughter favourite Razer Blade and put himself in line for the SunAlliance Hurdle.

“I sat next to Sir Clement Freud at lunch,” said the man who made Desert Orchid an immortal, “and put him off because I had been out last Sunday afternoon walking this horse with a touch of colic. But there was nothing wrong today.”

Nothing wrong either with the way the French filly Bilboa skated up under the stylish Thierry Doumen to put herself right in contention for the Triumph Hurdle. Like American jockeys coming here on the Flat, or indeed continental footballers coming into the Premier League, Doumen can at this stage sometimes look a bit short of punch in heavy and rolling exchanges. But when he is extremely cool and finely balanced through a race and when he gets them running like he did Bilboa here, he looks a pilot of the highest class.

There had been much talk this week that he would also win the closing bumper on an unraced horse called Carthago. But from half a mile out a combination of Frankie Dettori, Tony McCoy and the late Fred Archer would have been needed to get involved in the finish behind two other debutants, Chauvinist and Lord Lupin. For them the Cheltenham dreams live on.

Frantic Tan ran away with the £100,000 De Vere Gold Cup at Haydock and now heads for Cheltenham. But the three-and-a-half-mile test was marred by the tragic death of Young Kenny, who was put down after shattering a hind fetlock on the flat after jumping the 12th fence.

Frantic Tan made most of the running and gradually drew away from his rivals, eventually passing the post with 17 lengths to spare in the hands of Carl Llewellyn.

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies’s first impression was to opt for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Festival rather than the Gold Cup, but the William Hill Handicap Chase has also entered calculations.

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