The Outback Way holds on

 

Norman Williamson was the star of the first major meeting of the new year in Britain with a sparkling 269 to 1 treble at Cheltenham yesterday.

The Corkman had a quiet end to the old century, with winners seemingly hard to come by but bounced back in style with victories on Free To Roam, Kingdom Of Shades and The Outback Way.

The Outback Way followed up his success in November's Murphy's Gold Cup with a similar victory in yesterday's feature Unicoin Chase (Handicap).

On both occasions the Kambalda gelding has looked comfortable in the lead over the last fence only to struggle up the famous hill with his backers' hearts in their mouths as the opposition rallied.

On this occasion the opposition came in the form of Storm Damage who produced a strong finish under Joe Tizzard to get within a length of the winner at the line.

"On the evidence received so far he jumps the last then grinds to a halt," said winning trainer Venetia Williams.

The Outback Way has had a rest since failing to shine in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup when he was pulled up. However, he had shown his old sparkle at home according to his trainer.

"I rode him work on Saturday morning and although we were worried about the ground the race cut up badly so we decided to take our chance," she said.

The Outback Way was helping complete a 2911/2 to 1 across-the-card four-timer for Miss Williams whose Kingdom Of Shades galloped his eight rivals into the ground in the Miles Gosling Handicap Chase. Williams also sent out Hillview Lizzie and Bowl Of Gold to win at Folkestone.

Williamson's treble was instigated by Free To Roam, the surprise 8 to 1 winner of the Ian Williams' Owners Novices' Handicap Chase.

The cross-country chase, The Sporting Index Select Steeplechase, was won by the Paul Nicholls-trained Courlis Pontet (11-4) who romped to an eight-length success over the 15 to 8 favourite Linden's Lotto, the winner of the contest in 1999.