Graham Buddry looks back on the Cheltenham heroics of the front-running Dublin Flyer
Graham Buddry looks back at Dublin Flyer
To older National Hunt fans the first major race of the season will always be the Mackeson in the same way other top handicaps will be the Hennessy and the Whitbread no matter who is sponsoring them and what they are now called.
Cheltenham stage two big early season handicaps, both around 2½ miles, first on the Old course in the middle of November and the second on the New course four weeks later.
Mackeson were the first sponsors of the race back in 1960 and kept their interest going until the 1995 renewal. Since then four other sponsors have given their name to the race. By contrast, the twin race was originally the Massey Ferguson from its inception in 1963 until 1980. Since then it has held a whole plethora of names, few of which are easily remembered. Although both these races are roughly the same distance and both are held at Cheltenham, that is where the similarity ends. The Old course and the New one are vastly different so it takes a special horse to put his name on both rolls of honour and there have been few better, or more popular, than Dublin Flyer.
Trained by Captain Tim Forster, he started his racing career on 13 November 1991 and ended his novice hurdle season with a brace of low grade wins.
The following season he was never out of the first four, winning twice, as he plied his trade over the bigger obstacles with increasing success. Five more races resulted in two victories and three placed efforts before a first trip to Cheltenham for the 1994 Mildmay of Flete at the Festival.
In a field of 18 Dublin Flyer was not able to dominate in the manner associated with him later in his career but was always in the van. Taking the lead at the tenth until four out and still going strongly in second place approaching the last the leader, Elfast, jumped right across him before swinging wildly back the other way. In a desperate finish Dublin Flyer had to settle for the runner up berth, just unable to peg Elfast back in the closing stages.
After a summer at grass it was then all systems go for a new season with the Tripleprint Gold Cup in December as the prime target. With a 25 length demolition behind him on his first run of the season, it was little surprise that Dublin Flyer was sent off second favourite behind the talented Coulton, especially considering the mighty presence of former Champion Chaser Katabatic pushing over half the field down to near minimum or actually out of the weights.
From the start Coulton and Dublin Flyer set off at a terrific pace, quickly opening a lead of 15 lengths and more on the rest. Racing head to head the big two thundered on, Coulton always just inches ahead until Dublin Flyer out-jumped his opponent at the water. Coulton was only half a length down but he would never get back on terms, finally conceding defeat as he ploughed through the twelfth fence.
Southolt had now come out of the pack some half a dozen lengths adrift trying hard to close as they raced down the hill towards the home straight. Nuaffe also entered the equation having raced towards the rear for a long way. Brendan Powell looked over his shoulder as they turned in, seeing his nearest pursuers hard at work as he started to nudge Dublin Flyer into the second last.
Nuaffe lay fifth going into the fence but was a fast finishing third going away from it while Southolt threw everything he had at the leader. Final fence and Dublin Flyer jumped two lengths clear of Southolt, who looked held, but Nuaffe was now just a length further away and closing fast. Up the run-in Southolt veered left onto the rails and started to close, Dublin Flyer wasn’t stopping but couldn’t go any faster and Nuaffe was flying through between the pair with such momentum he took the lead with barely 50 yards to run; the race was surely his. Dublin Flyer then showed why he was