Mike Cattermole: Fond memories
Mike Cattermole pays tribute to Moscow Flyer and Rough Quest and reflects on Thistlecrack's chasing debut.
Moscow Flyer wins the 2005 Champion Chase
MOSCOW FLYER ONE OF THE VERY BEST
Moscow Flyer and Rough Quest were two hugely popular jumpers and their passing last week provoked lots of happy memories.
Rough Quest was a fine Grand National winner and was a very classy performer. You don't run second in the Gold Cup unless you have real talent. I also recall, very clearly, his winning a novice hurdle at Folkestone at the end of 1996 (his National-winning year) when his turn of foot was too much for a field in which most were half his age.
It was so sad that his trainer, Terry Casey, succumbed to cancer just five years later.
Moscow Flyer, however, was one of the best chasers I have ever seen and he was around in a vintage era, which included Well Chief and Azertyuiop.
Paul Nicholls thought the world of Azertyuiop who arrived at the Tingle Creek at Sandown in 2003 as the winner of all four of his completed chases – and had been a brilliant Arkle winner the previous March – but he was brushed aside by Moscow who prevailed by four lengths.
A year later, the rematch was on and Azertyuiop was sent off odds-on to beat his older rival, having taken advantage of Moscow's unseat in the Champion Chase in March. This time, they were joined by the young whippersnapper, Well Chief, that year's Arkle winner (on only his second start) for Martin Pipe. What unfolded will stay with all that witnessed it.
Moscow took it up after the Railway Fences, with Ruby Walsh on Azertyuiop and Timmy Murphy on Well Chief stalking, travelling well and waiting to pounce. But try as they both did, they couldn't get past Barry Geraghty and Moscow who kept on galloping up the hill and raised the roof as he held them both. It was fabulous.
Azertyuiop was rated 177 at the time and, just under two months later, Well Chief wowed the form experts as he defied a mark of 176 to win the Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham.
Yet Moscow Flyer beat them both again in the Champion Chase in March, 2005 just to prove he was still the king. They could never beat him.
He won 13 Grade One's but it could have been even better. His habit of making the odd jumping error meant he failed to complete in five of his chases.
It was that lapse in concentration that had cost him in the Leopardstown Champion Hurdle of 2001 when he looked to be getting the better of Istabraq, no less, only to fall at the second last.
Throughout his career, Moscow was brilliantly handled by Jessie Harrington. I recall visiting Jessie's stables at Moone in County Kildare when Moscow was relaxing in a muddy paddock, far away from the roars of the Cheltenham and Sandown crowds.
What struck me was the simple set up of the yard and its old fashioned demeanour which was a far cry from the organised multi-gyms for horses of the likes run by Messrs Nicholls and Pipe. For all of their combined expertise and their two superb chasers, they couldn't master the sublime talents of Jessie's Moscow Flyer.
RANDOX HEALTH 1, VINCENT O'BRIEN 0
It is always heartening to hear of a company not directly involved in horse racing coming in and injecting much-needed sponsorship cash into our sport. Especially during this strange era of Authorised Betting Partners, when many bookmakers who haven't signed up are being overlooked.
This is why British racing is embracing such companies as Randox Health, who will sponsor the Grand National for fives years from 2017. The Northern Ireland-based firm also backed last weekend's "Showcase Meeting" at Cheltenham and will also now be taking over sponsorship of the County Hurdle at the Festival.
However, the name of Vincent O'Brien is to be dropped from the race title – after 20 years – and I think that is both a shame and wholly unnecessary.
O'Brien is a legendary name in the sport and sent out 23 winners at the Festival between 1948 and 1959, including four Gold Cups. If ever a man deserved to have his legacy remembered in a race title at Cheltenham, it is surely he.
Why can't it be called the Randox Health Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle? Dropping the word "County" is probably not an option.
The trend these days it to bend over backwards for the sponsors, which can sometimes involve losing the race title completely. I recall having a passionate on-air debate a few years ago when 32Red took over sponsorship of the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket and called it simply the "32Red Trophy".
Luckily they saw sense and restored the rightful race title the next year. Racing, after all, has a fine and long heritage to protect.
Randox Health is obviously a company going places. Being Irish and run by a man, Dr Peter Fitzgerald, who clearly loves his horses and racing, and with its new connection with the National, a race in which O'Brien notched up an extraordinary hat-trick in the 1950s, it is even harder to understand why O'Brien's name has been dropped from the County Hurdle.
With all respect, O'Brien will continue to be celebrated long after Randox Health's connection with racing comes to an end.
What a chasing debut! Thistlecrack has one hell of an engine, we all know that. He also has jumping prowess, intelligence and athleticism judged on the way he handled Chepstow's fences on Tuesday.
Tom Scudamore's face as he returned to the winner's enclosure told you all you needed to know about how good he thinks Thistlecrack is.
How must Colin and Joe Tizzard be feeling right now? Cue Card is a wonderful chaser and now they might have one who could be even better. One day, these two jumping heavyweights will meet on the track. Aren't we the lucky ones?
RACING POST TROPHY ANTE-POST
The ante-post betting on last Saturday's Racing Post Trophy left a sour taste.
Capri being installed initially as a short-priced favourite and then not showing up while those in the know took fancy prices about Yucatan was not good karma for our sport.
If Yucatan had won the race, there would have been more of an uproar but in future, to save punters getting their fingers burned, bookmakers may be better avoiding pricing up races such as these while plans of the various connections are being crystallised.
Harzand's retirement to stud – after just seven races – had a shade of inevitability about it.
He never did build on his dual Derby success, although probably had his excuses as he was hampered in the Irish Champion Stakes and, as a result, had an interrupted preparation for the Arc.
It was no fault of his either that this year's Epsom Derby will not go down as a vintage renewal, although Idaho, Algometer, Across The Stars and Deauville all won decent races afterwards.
Harzand's claim to fame will be that he was Dermot Weld's first Epsom Derby winner, and Sea The Stars's first, and, given the amazing story that had unfolded in the hours leading up to the race, an unlikely one.
He clearly inherited more than a portion of his sire's unflappable and exemplary temperament and was genuine and good-looking, so it will be fascinating to see how he gets on in the breeding sheds at the Gilltown Stud, alongside his sire.