Three superstars and nowhere to hide – the 2004 Tingle Creek
Moscow Flyer: twice the winner of the Tingle Creek
PICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos) Three proper superstars and nowhere to hide – the 2004 Tingle Creek
By Graham Dench 2:56PM 21 OCT 2016
IF EVER a race passed immediately into legend, it was the late Moscow Flyer's second Tingle Creek in 2004. Graham Dench retells the story through the words of the protagonists.
In racing it's all too often a case of 'the bigger the build-up, the bigger the letdown'. Not the 2004 Tingle Creek Chase. If ever a race lived up to all of the hype, and more, this was it.
When Moscow Flyer had beaten Azertyuiop in the 2003 Tingle Creek there had been a suggestion that the runner-up, three years his junior and only just out of the novice stage, had not been fully wound up. Then at Cheltenham in March Moscow Flyer, the reigning champion, had one of his concentration lapses and unseated at the fourth-last, leaving his young rival to come home clear.
With history like that there were scores to settle, but if the rivalry between the pair was not intense enough, an extra dimension was provided by Well Chief, the new kid on the block and successful in the spring in both the Arkle, a race the two principals had both won as novices, and the Maghull Novices' Chase at Aintree.
Chasing provides few finer spectacles than that of high-class two-mile chasers taking Sandown's seven fences down the back at speed, and Tingle Creek himself would have been hard pressed to have put on a better show.
Moscow Flyer, bought for just 17,000gns as a first horse for new owner Brian Kearney, could not win a bumper but rose rapidly through the ranks over hurdles and was an immediate success as a chaser. He crowned his second season over fences with an impressive defeat of Native Upmanship in the 2003 Queen Mother Champion Chase but, despite having beaten Azertyuiop in the following December's Tingle Creek, he had something to prove again 12 months later, having unseated Geraghty and lost his Champion Chase crown to the young pretender. Azertyuiop had looked every inch the champion on his Exeter reappearance, and he was now the highest-rated chaser in Britain.
Jessica Harrington, trainer of Moscow Flyer: "All went well in the build-up to the Tingle Creek, but that was him. He only ever had one proper injury in his life and nearly every time you made an entry he turned up and won. This was crunch time though. He'd won the Fortria very well, but we were opposing the reigning champion, as well as the Arkle winner.
"He'd already won over two and a half at Aintree, and this was going to tell us if we should step up to three miles in the King George. This would be his defining moment. Did he still have the speed? Was he still the fastest?"
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Azertyuiop: "There was a lot of hype around the race and although we'd been beaten by Moscow the year before we'd since won the Queen Mother and we were favourite this time."
Martin Pipe, trainer of Well Chief: "We got Well Chief from Germany and he was a very exciting horse. He was only just touched off in the Triumph Hurdle, then the following year he went on to be a very good novice chaser indeed, winning the Grade 1 two-milers at both Cheltenham and Aintree for 'AP' [McCoy]."
Barry Geraghty, rider of Moscow Flyer: "Azertyuiop had won the Queen Mother when I got unshipped at the ditch, so he was the new champion, and Well Chief was the up-and-coming star, but I was very confident beforehand, as with a clear round he'd always won. I obviously had full respect for Azertyuiop and Well Chief, and Moscow Flyer was ten now, but he was such a classy horse I just couldn't see the others being as good as him if everything went right."
Harrington: "I had a long talk with Barry about how we were going to ride him, and it was decided he would take a lead and then hopefully go on at the end of the back straight, after the Railway fences. We even talked about him taking that long look over his shoulder, as if in despair, which would hopefully encourage the others to come after him. It went exactly as predicted."
Geraghty: "Cenkos went off in front and I was glad to take a tow off him. He went a good pace too, and it was just how I expected it to pan out. I was planning on joining him late at the Railway fences, and at the last of them Cenkos went left and I jumped to the front up his inside.
"Moscow was always inclined to pull up when you hit the front and so you always wanted them on your heels, rather than pull away and be vulnerable later through lack of concentration. So when I got to the front I actually steadied it up and sat in front. When I had a big long look going to three out it was as much to beckon them on, because if I'd gone five lengths clear I'd be more likely to land in the middle of a fence through Moscow having a look around being casual. That was the tactic, and I did the same again on the turn, just to wait and keep them coming. They were still at his heels when we jumped the second-last, and it was only then that we set sail.
"Azertyuiop and Well Chief both chased him hard up the run-in but he had so much pace and he stayed so well that I knew they wouldn't catch him. I was actually able to stand up in the irons in celebration with a stride or two to go, and when we got to the winner's enclosure I did my Frankie Dettori impersonation. I've done it a few times, including at Cheltenham, but I've only ever done it for Moscow. Luckily I got it right so didn't end up on my arse."
Nicholls: "As I remember it, we travelled really well but then jumped the Pond fence a little bit slow, whereas Moscow winged it, and then we just couldn't quite get back at him. If you're competitive by nature you wonder what you could have done differently, and I half thought we might have taken him on earlier, but Ruby [Walsh] knew him well and knew just what he was doing. At the end of the day we were beaten fair and square by a supremely good chaser."
Pipe: "We were stepping up and taking on the two big guns, but Well Chief ran a great race. He jumped well and travelled well, but while he made a real race of it with Azertyuiop up the finishing straight and only just lost second to him, neither of them were ever quite getting to Moscow Flyer."
Geraghty: "Of all the good races I've ridden in it's the one that stands out as having lived up to all of the build-up. Usually one horse disappoints and it doesn't materialise. It didn't materialise afterwards in the Champion Chase, where Azertyuiop made a bad mistake at the water and Well Chief was second, but at Sandown that day all three of them were on song. Three proper superstars, the ground was perfect and there was nowhere to hide. The pace was good, everyone jumped, and we all finished within a length and a half of one another. Mind you, we are still wondering what might have happened – what was left in the locker – as Moscow would beat a 140 horse the same as he'd beat a 170 horse. That's just the way he was."
Harrington: "It was such a good race and he beat them fair and square. There were no excuses, so that made up our minds. We didn't see the need to go three miles in the King George and aimed instead to reclaim the Queen Mother Champion Chase, which he did."
Geraghty: "Moscow went on to win the Queen Mother again and also the Melling, but then he got touched off by Rathgar Beau at Punchestown and that was the end of his unbeaten run. From his last race over hurdles, in the Shell Champion Hurdle where Istabraq fell at the last, to that day at Punchestown he had never been beaten except when I stepped off, or he turned over. The following season he was working the same as ever – he'd never been an amazing work horse – but the edge had gone off him and he didn't win again."
Pipe: "Well Chief was beaten afterwards by Azertyuiop in the Game Spirit and by Moscow Flyer in the Queen Mother, but he had his day at Sandown at the end of the season when he beat Azertyuiop in the Celebration Chase. He had problems afterwards, but he raced on until he was 11 and is now with Timmy Murphy."
Nicholls: "Unfortunately Azertyuiop virtually severed a tendon at Sandown at the end of that season while still a young horse and that was the end of him as a racehorse, but he has a very good home with John Hales."
Harrington: "The main problem during that season was that my horses weren't right, although we thought he was. I didn't want him to go downhill, so we retired him to the Irish Horse Welfare Centre as their flagship, but it had always been a joke with Brian Kearney when Moscow was in his prime that my daughter Kate, then quite young, would ride him one day in a charity race. At the age of 13 he came back to us around Cheltenham time and we got him ready for the charity race at Punchestown. On the day I'd never known such pressure, but he sluiced up and it was a great occasion."
Geraghty: "I was so lucky to come across a horse as good as him, and that second Tingle Creek was probably the best race I've ridden in."