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Imperial Call lords it over the big two.

SO "they" never come back. Try telling that to the connections of Imperial Call, who produced one of the best performances of his career to trounce Florida Pearl and Dorans Pride in the Heineken Gold Cup at Punchestown yesterday, writes Tony O'Hehir.

The 1996 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero received a rapturous

reception from the large crowd as he made every yard of the running to win the Irpounds 74,400 prize by 14 lengths.

Ruby Walsh, already assured of the Irish jump jockeys' title in his first season as a professional and riding Imperial Call for the first time, punched the air in delight as the 10-year-old passed the post after running his rivals ragged.

Apart from a mistake at the eighth - "I was blessed and was sitting there with no reins," reported Walsh, Imperial Call jumped safely and, at times, spectacularly and he had the race virtually won when he ran to the right at the final fence.

Off the track since finishing third in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing day, Imperial Call's well-being had been the subject of so many wild rumours that many believed he might never run again.

But yesterday's performance, which brought a 20-1 quote from Ladbrokes for next year's Cheltenham Gold Cup, showed there is plenty of life left in Lisselan Farms' pride and joy.

Fergie Sutherland, who trained Imperial Call to complete the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup-Cheltenham Gold Cup double three years ago, was among the large attendance. But the revitalised Imperial Call is all down to Raymond Hurley, who took over his training when Sutherland retired last summer.

And the 23-year-old trainer was justifiably thrilled after the race. He said: "It is great for the horse to have redeemed himself like that. There has been so much speculation about him and it means a lot to all at Lisselan Farms to see him put on a display like that.

"He loves to be out in front, dictating things. We were expecting a big run from him but not anything quite as good as that. Ruby gave him a fantastic ride."

While the winning team were all set for celebrations long into the night, the Florida Pearl and Dorans Pride camps were left slightly bemused by what had happened.

Neither horse jumped that fluently and Tony McCoy admitted that Dorans Pride was a beaten horse when he stumbled on landing and lost his hind legs four out when running second.

Florida Pearl tried to close on Imperial Call, but he was never really travelling through the race and was always fighting a lost cause.

Willie Mullins said: "Maybe he just isn't as good as we thought. The ground was in his favour but that's twice in a row he has been beaten a long way.

"He's finished for the season and now we might try different tactics and ride him up on the pace in his races.

"We were giving a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner 5lb, but that certainly didn't make the difference."

Michael Hourigan said of Dorans Pride: "I'm making no excuses. Imperial Call was the best horse on the day and I'm delighted for Raymond [Hurley]. Our horse tasted grass at the fourth-last but he was struggling at the time. It was disappointing and he's going on a long holiday now."

Dorans Pride was eased after his bad blunder and finished a distance behind Florida Pearl, with Opera Hat, running her last race, another distance behind.

Escartefigue fell at the first fence, to the clear annoyance of Richard Johnson, who fired his whip into the ground when he got to his feet.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:O'Hehir, Tony
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 29, 1999
Words:605
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