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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Bottle and stones do the trick before Labaik finishes with a rattle

Nervous moments: Labaik at the start before finishing fourth in the Betdaq Champion Hurdle
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My instructions are clear. Get down to the start for about 5.15pm and do not dare take your eyes off the grey horse. The jockey will be wearing luminous orange silks.

That's all well and good, but what happens when two horses fall into that category?

"It would be easier to start my old Ford Cortina, and I bought that in 1977," jokes one racegoer about the now infamous Labaik. He's become a social media sensation for not particularly sensational reasons. 

The grey son of Montmartre now knows what Kate Middleton feels like when she steps out to get a few groceries at Tesco. Every eye at Punchestown is fixed on him.

The stewards are sympathetic and agree to let him go down to the start early. Davy Russell pops up on top of him at 5.18pm. The staring starts. As it happens, there is nothing to see here.

Labaik plants himself and Jack Kennedy at the start at Punchestown on Tuesday

Labaik is like a lamb. He walks confidently around the parade ring and canters down to the start without any fuss at all. But that part has never been the problem. It's what happens next.

There is a familiar face down at the start. The boss man is here. Gordon Elliott has decided to take matters into his own hands. He's standing in the middle of the track with some sort of bottle in his hands. There isn't whiskey or vodka inside, something far more useful. 

It's 5.28pm. Two minutes to go. Labaik still seems happy. Diakali does not seem so content. They're called in. Fasten your seat belts. 

Elliott starts making the sort of noise my missus makes when I leave dirty dishes in the sink. He's certainly good at growling and Labaik is listening.

That bottle I mentioned earlier has stones inside. He begins shaking it frantically. It's working. Labaik is stuck in the middle of the pack with nowhere to go. If he digs his heels in again, those behind him will come to the rescue. 

Diakali is in no mood to help

But Diakali is in no mood to help. He's starting to sulk. Perhaps he is wondering why another grey is getting all the attention. We're ready to go and the tape is just yards away, but Danny Mullins is almost 50 yards behind the pack on Diakali.

Joe Banahan, who has the unenviable task of starting the race, cannot let them go. He's trying to be as fair as he can to everyone, including punters. He acts quickly and withdraws Diakali. We already have one grey out. Will another one bite the dust? 

Russell is now trapped out wide for take two. This is Tuesday all over again. Elliott continues to shake and growl. His assistants 'Busty' Ian Amond and Mouse O'Ryan are there too. This is a team effort.

Russell somehow manages to reposition himself on the rail. It is a masterstroke. The shouting gets louder, the shaking more frantic. It's now or never.

'They either want to start or they don't'

The tape rises. A few smacks to Labaik's backside combined with shaking stones, growling and roaring has the desired effect. He's away. Now the sprint to the big screen to see how he comes home. 

"It is a pity they did not all start. I wish they had. But what can you do? They either want to start or they don't and Diakali didn't want to start," reflects Banahan after jumping down from his rostrum.

Labaik might not be keen on starting, but he loves finishing. He flies home to take fourth and picks up €12,500 for his masterful trainer. It was the least Elliott deserved after the work that went in to getting him to go.

It would be easier to start my old Ford Cortina and I bought that in 1977
E.W. Terms
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