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Lexus Chase report

After Bobs Worth won the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown yesterday, Barry Geraghty rode the horse back down the racecourse in front of the packed grandstands, and the crown cheered. The move hadn’t been choreographed, it hadn’t necessarily been the plan, it just felt like the thing to do. It could have been Longchamp in October.

The crowd had been roused anyway. The finish to yesterday’s race may not have been quite as exhilarating as the finish to last year’s renewal, when Tidal Bay threaded the needle between Flemenstar and First Lieutenant and Sir Des Champs to get up and win by a head, but it wasn’t far off. Certainly, the cheer from the grandstand scaled a similar decibel level. And the supporting cast were here again: First Lieutenant second again, Sir Des Champs fourth again. It was only the lead role that changed.

Bobs Worth was on a redemption mission of sorts. The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March, had disappointed on his debut this season at Haydock in November, when he struggled home in sixth place, some 40 lengths behind Cue Card. Thoughts that he might not be the same horse this year, that the effort required to win that Gold Cup may have bottomed him, were banished yesterday in a 200-yard surge that took him past First Lieutenant and Rubi Ball and into the Lexus Chase record books.

Barry Geraghty hadn’t been too despondent about the Haydock run. The track hadn’t suited his horse, he had said. The ground had been too soft. He would be a much better horse back on better ground and back on a galloping track. Cue Leopardstown at Christmas. Actually, it was the rider’s opinion that instigated the decision even to run in yesterday’s race.

“Barry always said that Leopardstown would suit him,” said Henderson, who was having his first ever runner in the Lexus. “I wanted to go for the Argento Chase at Cheltenham at the end of January. With the weather, Corky (Brown, head lad) and I would have even been happy to have stayed at home two days ago. But Barry wanted to come here. He said that the track would suit him and that the ground would be better than we would get anywhere else.”

Bobs Worth settled nicely through the early stages of the race behind a relatively sedate pace that Ruby Walsh set on Rubi Ball. Pulled to the outside around the home turn, you would have been forgiven for thinking that both Rubi Ball and First Lieutenant were travelling better than Bobs Worth on the run to the final fence. But that would have been to reach a conclusion without taking Bobs Worth’s willingness or finishing pace into consideration. No better than third on landing over the last, the strength of his finish was such that he had a length and a half in hand of First Lieutenant at the line, with a length back to Rubi Ball, and the front three clear of Sir Des Champs in fourth.

“I always felt on the run to the last that we were going to get there,” said Geraghty, who sold the then unraced, unnamed Bob Back gelding as a four-year-old to Henderson at Doncaster in 2009. “The ground on the chase track was beautiful, and that was the winning of the race for me. He has lots of pace, he comes from a nice flat pedigree, and he’s got great heart.”

The Argento Chase at Cheltenham at the end of January is still an option for Bobs Worth, but his trainer seemed yesterday to be inclining towards the notion of going straight back to the Cheltenham Festival in March without another run. That plan would make a lot of sense, Bobs Worth is a horse who can go well fresh. He won the Hennessy Gold Cup in December last year on his seasonal debut, and he went from there to win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last March without a run in the interim.

“He had a hard race there,” said the trainer. “Whether he runs again or not before March, I wouldn’t like to say. My gut feeling is, it was quite hard to come here today. Do we need to run in the Argento Chase? I don’t know.”

Strange game, this racing game. It can floor you one minute, then pick you up, dust you down, and put you on top of the world the next. Just 24 hours before yesterday’s Lexus Chase, Henderson and Geraghty were coming to terms with the fact that their star Champion Chaser Sprinter Sacre, pulled up in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, had been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, and his future is still uncertain.

“This is a big relief after yesterday,” said the trainer. “We came here hoping that he would just run a good race, so to win was a bonus. After Haydock, it’s great to get him back.”

If the decibel level at Leopardstown yesterday is an accurate guide, the crowds concur.

© The Sunday Times, 29th December 2013