Trabolgan defies welter burden in style to make it all worthwhile for Fitzgerald; Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup.
FOUR months after his career was put under threat by a cruel break, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning jockey Mick Fitzgerald yesterday savoured one of his most personally fulfilling days in thesaddle as Trabolgan announced himself as a star in the making at Newbury.
Those glorious occasions at the Festival and Aintree are never to be forgotten, but such was the impact of the fall that broke a bone in his neck at Market Rasen in July that he might not have been present to share in yesterday's Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup triumph without the unstinting support of his boss, Nicky Henderson.
That job security, and the knowledge that Royal & SunAlliance Chase winner Trabolgan was being lined up for a crack at one of the jumps 'classics', spurred him in his recovery.
Yesterday, less than a week into the rider's comeback, Fitzgerald and Henderson, one of jumping's most enduring partnerships, were rewarded with their first Hennessy triumph.
No horse had carried top weight to victory since Burrough Hill Lad in 1984, but Trabolgan defied the trend in a manner that promised further riches, and accordingly he now vies for favouritism for both the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Stan James King George VI Chase with Ladbrokes at 4-1 and 11-4 respectively.
"It's very easy for me to do the steering," said an emotional Fitzgerald,who had been lost for words immediately after the win. "Good horses are what makes a jockey's life easier, but I can't emphasise enough how much having Nicky behind me helped me coming back. If I hadn't had a trainer like Nicky to ride for, I wouldn't have bothered. So this is so sweet. When you have good horses to ride, it's easy to come back. When you have shit to ride, there's no point. I've gone past that.
"I have got nothing to prove to anybody. I feel I have plenty of years left in me; I'm still as keen as ever.
Nicky has a great team of horses and he's a gentleman to work for.
"I had every incentive to come back for a horse like that and to win for all the team at Seven Barrows. You hope this happens. Then the weights kept going up, which meant it was an even harder task, but this horse was up to it. We've always thought he might progress into a Gold Cup horse and we certainly hope he can do that now." Fitzgerald, 35, barely had any reason to be concerned as, despite a couple of mistakes, Trabolgan turned into the straight travelling supremely well. He always appeared to have the measure of L'Ami, and though the French challenger took a narrow lead with the better jump at the final fence, T rabolgan picked him off on the run-in to score by two and a half lengths.
L'Ami had finished fourth behind T rabolgan in the SunAlliance, the form of which was further franked with the second and third, Comply Or Die and Cornish Rebel, filling fourth and third respectively here.
"A lot of people, including myself, thought the SunAlliance might not have been a great race but it turns out it wasn't all that bad," said Henderson. "It was a classy performance - he was always travelling. It did look that he had improved, but you never dare think that. He had looked fantastic and had been working well.
"The natural thing would be to go King George and then take it from there. He has proved today stamina isn't an issue. He was a good second in the Feltham last year and Sandown will be a possible plus to him. It's another step up, but that was a very big step he has taken today.
"For the jockey this was amazing. After that time off, to go and do that in his first week back is great stuff, as it is for everybody. It's only taken 26 years but it's great for the likes of Corky Browne and Jonny Worrall, who have been with me since I started."
T rabolgan was the first Festival winner for owner Trevor Hemmings, who went on to fulfil his lifelong dream of winning the Grand National with Hedgehunter. Now he has a major contender for the Gold Cup, for which T rabolgan is a best-priced 13-2 third favourite with Coral, while 4-1 is the best available price for the King George, with Coral and Totesport.
Hemmings commented: "Mick kept saying 'I'd love to ride him' and 'I'll win it', so I had to believe him.
"We bought this horse as a yearling and we've nursed him all the way through.
It's only his fifth run over fences. He really is a lovely animal."
KING GEORGE Stan James: 5-2 Kicking King, 7-2 Trabolgan, 4 Kingscliff, 10 Our Vic, Impek, 11 Ollie Magern, 14 L'Ami, 16 bar.
race result1 Trabolgan ..........................13-2 2 L'Ami ..................................10-1 3 Cornish Rebel ..................11-2f 4 Comply Or Die ..................12-1Owner: Trevor Hemmings Trainer: Nicky Henderson Jockey: Mick Fitzgerald Groom: Sarah Shreeve Breeder: Michael Lysaght Distances: 2 1 /2l, 1 3 /4l, 1 1 /2l