Little Josh's Power play leaves his rivals trailing
T he Paddy Power. The race that seriously launches the jumps season at Cheltenham turned 50 yesterday. Established by Bill Whitbread in 1960 as the affectionately remembered Mackeson Gold Cup, it started life as a two-mile contest.
Legends like Fortria and Dunkirk claimed the spoils in the early years and, if you believed all you heard in advance of yesterday's half century, a modern legend was about to unveil itself in the name of Long Run. Fortria started at very short odds in 1965 and Long Run -- supported by a tsunami of public money -- plunged to become one of the shortest-priced favourites in the race's history at a stingy 2/1.
However, legend status -- and a win payout -- will have to wait for another day as Long Run failed to reel in the front-running locally-trained outsider Little Josh which himself had seemed fairly mortal before yesterday's unexpected win. The effort to peg back the irrepressible Little Josh even cost Long Run second in the end but nonetheless aspiring legend Long Run will be hoping for redemption next in the King George against no lesser foe than existing legend Kauto Star.
There was never -- nor will there ever be -- anything legendary about Little Josh, but his victory yesterday was as impressive as it was meritorious. He was already four lengths clear of his 17 rivals in what was a typical sprint by the time they reached the first. And the winning margin of two and three quarter lengths was the closest any of his pursuers got to him for the five minutes 12 seconds it took to run the remainder of the race.
So often when a race goes to an outsider, it owes something to the underperformance of the main protagonists. Not so yesterday. All the right horses were in all the right places at all the right times. True, Long Run was a bit scrappy at the fence before the stands; and again at the ditch but nothing to resemble the judders of the RSA in March. Even jockey Sam Waley-Cohen was realistic in defeat. "I don't have any excuses as, for the most part, he jumped well."
Michael Hourigan's Dancing Tornado, under the very promising Adrian Heskin, emerged from a very long way back to grab second (without ever posing a serious threat) and is likely to renew rivalry with the winner back here next month.
Edward O'Grady, who broke Ireland's hoodoo in the race with Tranquil Sea last year, had a disappointing run from the fancied Catch Me. The horse simply failed to jump with the aplomb necessary for a race like this and trailed in tenth.
Nicky Henderson, trainer of the much-touted Long Run, also provided the fourth Mad Max and reflected: "He probably would have preferred better going and finished quite tired." Of Long Run, he declared: "You might just say that Long Run has shown his best form on flatter tracks, although that might be clutching at straws. I don't see any reason to change the plan for Long Run and he will go to Kempton for the King George now."
Bookmakers never got rich by giving it away, but churlishness reached a whole new plateau by their extension of Long Run by all of a point (6/1 from 5/1 in many cases) in the light of yesterday's performance. Kauto Star himself might have given you two -- with even Henderson conceding that "I doubt that Kauto Star will be quaking in his boots."
The race was a great triumph for the Twiston-Davies clan, with father Nigel claiming his third win in the race following Imperial Commander (2008) and Tipping Tim (1992). Normally reserved, he was emotionally unrestrained in his praise for son Sam. "For a young man aged 18 and two weeks to come out and kick a horse into every fence like that takes some balls," he said.
"It was a good front-running ride. When they make the running like that you think 'will he last?' But the boy knows more than I do!"
Stable jockey Paddy Brennan was on Pigeon Island, which never figured. Trainers with sons riding fancied runners is pretty topical at the moment, but mischievous rumours that Brennan is considering tendering his resignation are completely without foundation.
As a side-note, in the first bonus race of the popular Racing Post Ten to Follow competition, those who failed to include 20/1 Little Josh (worth 72 points) in their lists can breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that by reducing the selections down to 400 this year, he wasn't high enough to even be included!
One Irishman celebrating at the home of National Hunt was jockey Dougie Costello who enjoyed a 28/1 double. Costello has been plying his trade on the northern English scene for some years, but only notched his first winner at the highest level in April when Wayward Prince took the Sefton Novices' Hurdle.
He was reunited with Ian Williams' six-year-old in the Ultima Frontrunner In IT Solutions Novices' Chase and connections are now dreaming of further Grade One glory.
Chicago Grey loomed large turning into the straight but crashed out at the re-sited second-last fence, bringing down Beshabar. Beshabar's rider, Christian Williams, was taken to Cheltenham General Hospital with a suspected fracture to his left arm.
Wayward Prince (9/4 favourite) carried on regardless, and battled on well for a four-and-a-quarter-length win from Balthazar King.
Costello was arguably seen to better effect on Neil Mulholland's Midnight Chase (8/1), which made all the running in the stamina-sapping Morson Group Handicap Chase.
And Sam Winner (4/1) emerged as the early favourite for the Triumph Hurdle after a laughably easy success for Noel Fehily in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial.
Paddy Power installed Paul Nicholls' charge as their 7/1 Festival jolly after his 15-length stroll.