Caid Du Berlais strikes Gold in dynamic rush-hour surge
The Paul Nicholls-trained Caid Du Berlais became only the second five-year-old in the 55-year history of the Paddy Power Gold Cup to capture the first major prize of the jumps season as he finished to dynamic effect to dramatically hijack the aspirations of Johns Spirit in the dying strides at an under-construction Cheltenham yesterday. Johns Spirit was just denied becoming only the third horse to win the race in successive years in a renewal curiously unlike the editions of yore.
All morning, racegoers were treated to video footage of previous winners of this early season landmark and in almost every case the winners appeared in splendid isolation on their way to victory. Not yesterday. Like Cheltenham's structural redevelopment, Caid Du Berlais is still a work-in-progress and yesterday the French-bred had more than a dozen horses ahead of him jumping the third last and nearly half a dozen still at the last. Yet, he fairly flew up the hill to prevail in a uncharacteristically muddled finish where just six lengths covered the first five home. There could still be more to come. "I've got a lot of apologising to do!" winning jockey Sam Twiston-Davies said afterwards.
"I told Paul (Nicholls) not to run him. I was adamant to Paul he shouldn't run, but he's like my dad - he knows best!" The fear was the deteriorating ground for a horse that appeared not to fully stay last time out in the Galway Plate. However, Nicholls pointed out that the horse had won on soft at Auteuil earlier in his career and the rest, as they say, is history.
The race itself was a peculiarity in the sense that the pace was extremely conservative for a contest of its nature, with jockeys obviously mindful of the seriously testing conditions. It meant, remarkably, that there were no fallers (in a field of 18) and that a wave of horses were still in close contention turning for home. At that point favourite Present View was controlling the lead and actually jumped the second last with a length lead.
However, the pack was snapping at his heels and it was Johns Spirit that came to wrestle the lead from the favourite at the last. Irish raider Shanpallas showed with a chance at the last but ultimately faded, whilst the strongly-fancied pair of Oscar Whisky and Buywise never appeared competitive during the race but finished off to some effect to claim fourth and fifth respectively, both looking like they need a step up in trip.
The Paddy Power victory, cementing the new Nicholls/Twiston-Davies partnership, was adding to another high-profile success earlier in the afternoon for the new alliance when Sam Winner defied top-weight and a 217-day absence to win the marathon Grade Three Murphy Group handicap chase. Last season's RSA fifth proved very tenacious yesterday in the attritional conditions and his jockey needed to continually coax him along owing to some indifferent jumping along the way.
Twiston-Davies reflected: "He's genuine, but very lazy, although when you need a big jump he gives you one. It's probably my fault for letting him get a bit surrounded. I pulled him out for a nice bit of ground coming downhill and when he hit that, he got on a roll."
Sam Winner and favourite The Druid's Nephew pulled 25 lengths clear of the third with Sam's superior stamina securing the day in the end. Nicholls was quick to affirm future targets for his seven-year-old "He's a National horse, without a shadow of a doubt. How we get there I don't know. You could stick him in the Lexus (at Leopardstown), he just might be suited by going in a small-field conditions chase somewhere."
Another horse going places is Kings Palace which was getting some complimentary single-figure quotes for the RSA at the Festival after his impressive introduction in the three-mile Class Two novice chase. Making his seasonal debut against four individual chase winners, the David Pipe horse never betrayed even a flicker of inexperience as he skipped from fence to fence. Pipe, winnerless on Friday but with a double on yesterday's card (630-day absent Katkeau won the stayers' hurdle) was understandably optimistic after Kings Palace had denied Sausalito Sunrise by four lengths.
"That was brilliant, he jumped well. He was spectacular sometimes over hurdles and sometimes they don't go on over fences, but he saves a bit for the end. I would have thought we'd be working backwards from Cheltenham in March and probably from the RSA Chase." He could have been summing up for the whole racing tribe.
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