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RACING: CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2005: ARKLE SPARKLE FOR PIPE'S NAP.

CONNECTIONS of Contraband had to endure a nerve-wracking 15 minutes before the gelding was confirmed the winner of the Arkle Challenge Trophy yesterday.

Martin Pipe's seven-year--old appeared to cross the second,Ashley Brook,on the run in and after they flashed past the post an inquiry was quickly announced.

But after an agonising delay, the stewards allowed the result to stand.

Timmy Murphy gave the winner a typically patient ride and settled the seven-year-old out the back as Ashley Brook set a searching gallop in the two-mile test.

Murphy moved Contraband into contention at the top of the hill, where the leader came under pressure.

Ashley Brook still held the call on the run to the last, where Contraband threw down his challenge,but the pacemaker stumbled on landing and Murphy seized his chance to boot his mount clear.

Contraband then hung to his left causing Brennan to switch Ashley Brook.

The post arrived just in time for Contraband (7-1), who held on by a length.

After the result was confirmed Pipe said: 'I didn't like the inquiry going on a long time, but you've got to have luckon your side.

' He was my nap of the meeting. Hopefully he'll go to Aintree if he comes out of this OK.He's run well there before.' Contraband is 20-1 with William Hill for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at next year's Festival.

Mouse Morris-trained War Of Attrition was heavily backed, but despite being sent off the 11-4 favourite he did not play a part in the finish and came home in seventh place.

Ashley Brook came close to giving his trainer Kevin Bishop a first Festival success, and he said: 'I think if he had landed running over the last he would have won,but he pecked quite badly,unfortunately.

'He has had sore shins and we thought possibly of not running him. We had him 100percent fit, but unfortunately the shins were not quite right. But there is only one novice year and only one Arkle.'

Big--spending Graham Wylie received the first Cheltenham Festival dividend from his multi-million-pound bloodstock investment as 20-1 chance Arcalis stormed up the hill to land the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Howard Johnson's charge, who travelled well in mid-division through the early stages, was produced approaching the last by Graham Lee and streaked clear to win by six lengths from Wild Passion, who just held off Dusky Warbler for the runner-up spot by half a length.

Ever approachable,Wylie said:'I'm more pleased for Graham Lee and for Howard than myself,' he said in typical style. 'They have both been working so hard for this.

'We bought Arcalis as a hurdler and he'll probably be a two-mile hurdler next season.

'I have made a big investment,but this is a great thrill and it was just stunning to watch the horse fly over the final flight.'

Johnson said the gelding was unlikely to run again over hurdles this season, but added that a possible tilt at another valuable York prize - the Tote Ebor - - could be on the cards.

Jockey Lee was also claiming a first Cheltenham Festival success.

'I had a dream passage. Coming into the meeting I was a Festival virgin - and I'm glad I lost my virginity,'he beamed.

Francois Doumen's Kelami improved on a recent good run at Haydock to take the William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase.

Robert Thornton crept into contention on the final circuit of the Grade Three handicap and laid down a challenge to top-weight Keen Leader on the entrance to the home straight.

The 8-1 winner, who was fourth in the race last year, then sprinted away up the hill to score by a length and a quarter from Jonjo O'Neill's horse, who was conceding 24lb and started at 28-1.

Irish Hussar (33-1) kept on well to take third on his first run since pulling up in last year's Gold Cup, while Chives was fourth at a massive 50-1.

Spot Thedifference, twice a previous winner over Cheltenham's unique cross country course, added a third success when he ran out an ultimately convincing victor of the Sporting Index Handicap Chase.

The4-1second--favourite ran in snatches for a long way,but found top gear when the runners came on to the racecourse proper and came clear up the hill to beat Luzcadou by two and a half lengths.

It was no mean effort from Enda Bolger's charge,who was shouldering top-weight of 11st12lb under top amateur JT McNamara.

CAPTION(S):

GREYT CAL IS SUPREME: Graham Lee on Arcalis (left) take it up from Wild Passion and Paul Carberry at the last in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 16, 2005
Words:773
Previous Article:RACING: CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2005: AZ YOU LIKE IT; Stage is set for Ruby to play it again.
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