Late run gives Tidal Bay sensational Lexus victory
Report: Leopardstown, Friday
Lexus Chase (Grade 1) 5yo+, 3m
TIDAL BAY defied belief as he slipped through a narrow gap between runners to seize the Lexus Chase and record a last-gasp victory over Ireland's brightest Gold Cup hopes.
In the process he completed a rehabilitation that has seen him transformed from a talented but erratic chaser into one of the boldest, bravest and best about.
"It's been phenomenal to get him back," said Paul Nicholls, who has rejuvenated Tidal Bay since he began training him in late 2011.
"It's one of my proudest moments. He's a high-class horse who is improving even though he's turning 12," Nicholls added.
It now seems possible, even likely, that a 12-year-old Tidal Bay will contest the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup for the second time, having finished sixth behind Long Run in the 2011 edition of the race when trained by Howard Johnson.
Two years on he is just 10-1 to win the Gold Cup (from 16 with William Hill and 18 with Paddy Power).
Although he will also be entered in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, the Gold Cup seems a race well tailored to the particular strengths of the new Tidal Bay: tenacity, perseverance and apparently bottomless reserves of stamina.
It was only his incredible, almost obstinate courage - plus the daring horsemanship of Ruby Walsh - which saw him meet the line atop a pile of particularly able racehorses.
Tidal Bay had come off the bridle in the back straight, as favourite Flemenstar travelled exceptionally well near the front of the field.
The Peter Casey-trained Flemenstar, who was bidding for an eighth consecutive victory and was 5-4 to do it, went into a three-length lead approaching the last.
Yet he took the final fence slowly and was challenged by First Lieutenant, who, as the line loomed large, wore down Flemenstar and looked destined for victory before the unannounced arrival of Tidal Bay.
As usual, he was flying home, relentlessly gaining on the leaders, and with only yards remaining Walsh pointed his mount at the narrow gap between Flemenstar and First Lieutenant. The pair emerged into the daylight which heralded victory just a whisker before the line.
Owner Graham Wylie said: "This is up there with Inglis Drever [winning three World Hurdles]. He looked beat at the last, but came with a great run and nicked it. He's so gutsy. It was a great ride because he's quirky, odd horse and a great training performance."
"He picked up well and flew home in the last 100 yards. We all knew Flemenstar's stamina had to be tested and we went a good gallop. I knew a test would suit me," added Walsh.
Although Flemenstar ran 95 per cent of the race as if he was the best horse he was eased for the Gold Cup (10-1 from 5 with BetVictor), reflecting doubts over whether he saw out the trip, which led to him being cut for the Ryanair Chase (4-1 from 5 with Paddy Power).
Francis Casey, son and assistant to Peter, said: "I'm disappointed we lost, but delighted with the way he ran. He ran too free - he was too well in himself. He just emptied, but we're happy.
"I'm sure he'll get an entry in the Gold Cup, but personally I'd drop back in trip."
However, Flemenstar's trainer suggested his charge could drop back even further than the Ryanair's 2m5f. "Personally I think the Ryanair is a non-entity of a race, and I wouldn't think after that that he's a Gold Cup horse," Casey said.
"You need a two and a half miler for the Queen Mother [Champion Chase] and I think that's the race for him. The other fella [Sprinter Sacre] would be quaking in his boots if we turned up."
Sir Des Champs defied jumping errors to stay on to take fourth and was generally unchanged at 6-1 for the Gold Cup, while second-placed First Lieutenant was cut to 12-1 (from 16) by William Hill for the same race, which will be his next race according to trainer Mouse Morris.