Plucky Gauvain restores pride after fall
Her best horse had been beaten again and a wild, murky afternoon in the flatlands of Huntingdon must have blended fairly seamlessly with her own emotional landscape.
But Henrietta Knight did not have far to seek yesterday to remember how it's an ill wind that blows no good. It was only five days previously, after all, that the horse which had just beaten Knight's Somersby dismayed his own connections with a fall at Sandown.
Having duly avoided a hard race against Sizing Europe, Gauvain was able to rise from the canvas and win the Betfred Peterborough Chase. And in the process, at least he confirmed Knight in her suspicion that Somersby nowadays requires a stiffer test of stamina.
Whether he can improve sufficiently at three miles to trouble Long Run and company at Kempton on St Stephen's Day remains to be seen.
Having jumped and travelled well under Dominic Elsworth, Somersby (5/4) was caught flat-footed when Noel Fehily kicked Gauvain for home and could make only gradual inroads as they toiled into the gale, still four and a half lengths down at the post.
Knight's historic affinity with this race -- once extending to eight winners in 10 years -- did not prevent her champion, Best Mate, being turned over in the 2003 running.
"It wasn't his race, and wasn't his course," Knight said. "They go flat out round those little bends and he couldn't get into his usual rhythm. After all, the winner ran in the Tingle Creek last weekend, so he's obviously thought a two-miler."
In fairness, while she had plainly acceded to other pressures, Somersby would hardly have been sent off hot favourite had this been some kind of reckless punt. Even so, he must prove a radically different proposition over the extra half mile in the King George if he is to make the podium, even in a field increasingly lacking depth.
As for Gauvain (15/2), he has dismantled the theory that he has to be fresh, and by proving his own stamina has entitled connections to build towards the Ryanair Chase in March.
On a cheerless afternoon, only the bookmakers' digital displays seemed to obtain any kind of festive glow -- especially when the odds against Hit The Headlines were tumbling before the novice hurdle. A bumper winner last season, the 5/4 shot saw off several other likely prospects to leave his trainer in a pleasant dilemma.
"He's a great big horse and we've been schooling him over fences," Nicky Henderson said. "But I couldn't find a chase anywhere before Christmas -- not at a track he's going to go round, anyway. So we've come here. You won't see the real article until next year." (© Independent News Service)