Imperial Call's run catches the eye


A clash to whet any appetite in Sunday's Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown is now very much on after the 1996 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Call's highly impressive second to Cockney Lad over hurdles at Navan on Saturday.

Trainer Fergie Sutherland yesterday confirmed the Ericsson, and a clash with the current Gold Cup favourite Dorans Pride, as the plan for Imperial Call who only had only a small cut on a hock to show for his gallant front-running effort.

Considering the horse's frustrating recent history of history of niggly injuries, Sutherland was relieved to report yesterday: "He's in smashing form this morning. He's eaten up and it's only a graze on his hock which came because of the way he uses himself when he jumps."

Indeed, there were those at Navan who believed that only Imperial Call's understandable tendency to jump the smaller obstacles big and bold prevented him from beating Cockney Lad who is after all the current Irish Champion Hurdler.

It was that light that caused punters to make Cockney Lad an 8 to 11 favourite with the amateur ridden Theatreworld available at 100 to 30 and Imperial Call on 5 to 1. Nobody told the Co Cork-trained horse the plot, however, and he set such a fast pace on the heavy ground that Charlie Swan afterwards admitted that Imperial Call's effort had made it a difficult race to ride.

Cockney Lad likes to be covered up but Swan had no option but to go in pursuit from a mile out. Gradually, Cockney Lad ate into the lead but it was hard work and once alongside Imperial Call on the run in, he had to be ridden right out by Swan to win by only a length.

"Because of the ground, we raced very very wide and in effect went about two miles and six furlongs which is as far as my horse wants to go," a relieved Swan said of Cockney Lad who is now a 50 to 1 shot with Sean Graham for the Champion Hurdle.

The same firm chopped Imperial Call's Gold Cup price to 12 to 1, understandable considering jockey Conor O'Dwyer's post race verdict of "fantastic."

O'Dwyer added: "We went wide to get the best of the ground and he was quite keen which meant we were going maybe a stride too fast. I thought at the last, if he jumped it well, we might win but Cockney Lad had too much speed. Hopefully there will be no more hiccups before the Ericsson. I've great respect for Dorans Pride and it should be a helluva race."

That's in the immediate future but in the long term, Native Estates could be a young horse to contest more than his fair share of big races. Certainly there was no way he could have won the INH Novice Hurdle any easier and when jockey Jason Titley commented "it's a while since I've ridden one this good" it wasn't hard to be believe.

His trainer Noel Meade explained the performance with an admirably simple "he's just a good horse" and will run Native Estates over Christmas, although he will avoid taking on his stable companion Walk On Mix.

However, it wasn't such a happy race for The Client's rider Tom Rudd who got a nine-day ban for making insufficient effort on the Syl Kirk-trained horse, and after the bumper the stewards were again in action.

Sunset Creek, backed from 12 to 1 to 6 to 1, beat Noel Meade's Walt, but the winning jockey Kevin O'Sullivan (22) was given a two-day suspension for using his whip excessively, while Greg Harford on the runner-up got five days for using his whip with excessive force and frequency.