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Fate lends a helping hand and Skycab does the rest.

Byline: Rodney Masters

THE official going in the winner's enclosure at Sandown was changed from `good' to `heavy, with deep emotional patches' following a cloudburst of tears as Skycab gave Josh Gifford the perfect exit after half a century in the sport.

Cheers rang out loud and long as the crowd made a beeline to pack 20 deep round the

enclosure and jockeys, from jumping and the Flat, came out in force on the weighing-room balcony to join in with thunderous applause.

Moist eyes were spotted on many of the

departing trainer's colleagues, including John Dunlop, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls. The last-named, once on the staff at Findon, saddled runner-up Devon View and said: "This is the first, and possibly last, occasion I was pleased to get beaten."

Gifford, mobbed by well-wishers after his 1,587th and final success as a trainer, said: "I can't believe this has happened. Aldaniti's National win was a fairy story and this is another. People have been very kind and said so many very nice things about me - I know none are true!"

Skycab had looked the least likely winner when under strong pressure from Leighton Aspell, and they looked a spent force at the railway fences. Although he was running on by the Pond fence, it still appeared unlikely he would make the frame, but there then seemed to be two acts of divine intervention for one of the sport's most-loved characters.

Wave Rock was three lengths clear jumping the second-last but stumbled and shot Richard Johnson out of the saddle. This left Devon View with a three-length advantage, but Ruby Walsh dropped his whip.

All the time Skycab was whittling down the leader's advantage and, to tumultuous roars, he seized the lead in the final 75 yards.

Gifford said: "I hadn't lost hope when he was under pressure down the far side. He'd got outpaced in a similar race at Stratford last time but stayed on to win, and I knew the stiff finish would be to his advantage."

When someone pointed out that Skycab, like Aldaniti, had been number four on

the racecard, the trainer said: "I certainly

hadn't remembered that - but I'm going to

include four in the lottery tonight."

He added: "It means a lot to me for this to happen at Sandown. I've been so lucky here over the years, and also at Ascot and Cheltenham." Then someone reminded him

that he had a smart record, too, at his local courses, Plumpton and Fontwell. "Oh yes. We mustn't forget them," he said.

Gifford was sent on his way with three cheers, each louder than the previous one.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 28, 2003
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