Mercurial Harchibald back to his best with Carberry in a starring role
First published on Sunday, December 2, 2007
There is nothing more satisfying than reviving fading memories. Yesterday, it was Harchibald doing the reviving when he reminded anyone who cared to watch what a class act he is over hurdles.
Three years on from winning the Fighting Fifth Hurdle after striking the front at the last on a tight rein, he returned to Newcastle and duly produced an identical performance under his old ally Paul Carberry in the WBX.com-sponsored Grade 1 showpiece.
Katchit, the 5-4 favourite, had struck for home four out but, come the final flight, he was strongly pressed by Al Eile and Harchibald, and it was the Irish duo who proved the stronger. Harchibald, who was winning his first race for almost two years, proved the most potent, scoring in some style by a length and three-quarters from Al Eile, with Katchit a length and a half further back in third.
"He definitely feels as good, if not better, than ever," said Carberry, after he and his popular mount had received a 'Denman-type' reception as they returned to the unsaddling enclosure in triumph.
"What makes him so good is that he jumps about three times quicker than any other horse. I was always happy on him and it was just a question of when I pressed the button."
Bet365 quoted Harchibald at 6-1 for the Champion Hurdle, but 10-1 was available with Totesport and VCbet about the horse who came up marginally short against Hardy Eustace in the 2005 renewal.
A freak injury, caused by a piece of birch, which ran up through a hind joint and split a tendon, brought Harchibald's season to a premature close two years ago.
Last season, according to Gillian O'Brien, representing trainer Noel Meade on course (just as she had done when he triumphed three years ago), he had "niggling little problems and never really sparkled".
There was, though, the first real signs of a revival in a Flat race on the all-weather at Dundalk just over a week ago.
"He ran so well there and came out of that race so well that we felt he was on his way back," she added.
Meade, who watched the race on TV at Fairyhouse, was thrilled with the unmistakable evidence of Harchibald back at his best.
"It's fantastic to see him back and doing the job so well," he said. "Of all the horses I've trained, I love him most of all. He's taken a lot of stick from people who don't know him or understand him."
In clinching the first leg of the WBX.com triple crown, he is now on course for their £1m bonus if he can win the Christmas Hurdle and Champion Hurdle.
"We'll see what he's like when we get him home, but the chances are that he'll go to Kempton at Christmas in search of the second leg of the bonus," said Meade, who did not rule out the possibility that his opposition at Kempton could include stablemate Jazz Messenger, winner of the race last year and already a Grade 1 winner this term, at Punchestown.
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