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Fontwell: Williams times it right on Goblet as Nicholls team pulls out all the stops.

Byline: Reporter: Lee Mottershead

IT WASsymbolic of the season. All the way up the straight they duelled, one horse trained by Paul Nicholls, one horse trained by Martin Pipe. Locked together, eyeball to eyeball, the two horses raced miles clear of the rest, as inseparable in the closing stages as they had been in the betting. Not, though, completely inseparable.

For Nicholls' horse won, edging a Fontwell finish as thrilling as the final chapter of the trainers' championship.

In the end, a neck separated Goblet Of Fire and Alikat, the margin bigger than it had been at any stage up the straight. But that slender neck meant that Nicholls had earned pounds 2,470 more from the two-mile-sixfurlong novice hurdle than Pipe. The way this title race is going, the crown may be decided by even less.

``That was the only way to beat Martin's horse, to sit on his tail,'' said Nicholls, after Christian Williams had carried out with aplomb his employer's instructions to stalk Alikat. Along with Ditcheat stalwart Joe Tizzard, who earned his boss pounds 288 when finishing third in the bumper on Lunch Was My Idea, Williams has provided admirable back-up to Ruby Walsh this season. If Nicholls becomes champion, it will have been thanks to a big team effort.

``Christian, Joe and everyone at home have done really well,'' said Nicholls. ``We've got a great team and they've all been fantastic.

Everyone is up for it and it would be brilliant for everyone back home if we could get there.''

Having been successful earlier in the day at both Shaftesbury Avenue and Perth, Nicholls moved on to the 150-winner mark for the season when Goblet Of Fire scored.

Already way past his previous best seasonal prize-money total, he now needs just three more winners to exceed his existing best total number of winners in a campaign.

Another man chasing a number is Tony McCoy, who ended the day only two salutes short of a sixth double-century thanks to the victory of Graffiti Tongue in the marathon hurdle, in which Mattie Batchelor was lucky to escape uninjured after his mount, Manque Neuf, ran out through the rail.

Quite magnificent aboard Graffiti Tongue, McCoy had earlier in the day teamed up with Nicholls at Shaftesbury Avenue to be awarded the controversial Exeter selling hurdle won, then lost and now won again by Blue Endeavour.

While Nicholls and McCoy have been flying of late, Nicky Henderson has not, and the trainer was ending a 25-day barren spell when the Mick Fitzgerald-ridden Reel Dancer took the three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap chase.

Belatedly enjoying his first win, Reel Dancer has made his connections wait before breaking his duck, but part-owner Kath Connors explained: ``He's a bag of nerves and, although he's eight, he's still a baby.''

Robert Alner, who sent out Silver Inngot to take the novice chase, has been firing in plenty of winners this season, but Mark Hoad and Zoe Davison have not. However, both were back in the winner's enclosure after the wins of The Staggery Boy and Zaffre in the handicap chase and the mares' novice hurdle respectively.

Zaffre, bred by Sheikh Mohammed and still in his ownership when sold for 800gns at Tattersalls three years ago, is a box-walker, a weaver and she does not like going in horseboxes, either, but her heart is in the right place and chasing will be her game.

the day at a glance

Star performance

Tony McCoy, who stole the marathon hurdle on Graffiti Tongue The heat is on ``I have to say there's enormous pressure, so thank God we've only been going on about it for ten days and not two or three months this time'' - Paul Nicholls is relieved that mass interest in the trainers' title did not begin sooner than it did

Phwoar! Wot a stunner! ``If she was human, she would be a model on page three of The Times, not The Sun - she's got class, you see''-trainer Mark Rimell is smitten with Sun Pageant

m Results and analysis start page 80

CAPTION(S):

John and Ann Owen, winners of the Racing Post's Aintree Team competition in association with Blue Square, are presented with their cheque by Lee Mottershead. The couple are due to jet off this morning for a sunshine break in Florida
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 22, 2005
Words:717
Previous Article:Title boost for Nicholls as Blue Endeavour is reinstated.
Next Article:Gowran Park: Behan reaps benefit of break with first win for two years.

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