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Monster of Cheltenham leaves terrific memories; RETIREMENT OF A FESTIVAL LEGEND.

Byline: Rodney Masters reflects on the career of a fighter who came into his own at the festival

AT AROUND 3.25pm, seven weeks today, we would have been waiting for the monster to come over the hill, and in-running punters would have had fingers poised waiting to cash in on Inglis Drever's infamous and deceptive 'flat spot', when for half a furlong he would appear to be wearing diver's boots.

As devoted groom Ginni Wright skipped up the horse-walk to embrace Inglis Drever and lead him in to a thunderous reception, be it in victory or defeat on his attempt for a fourth Ladbrokes World Hurdle title, she would have belted out his anthem borrowed from the hit song by The Automatic. What's that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? No, it's Inglis Drever.

The Inglis Drever story began in September 2001 and there were few clues that this 130,000gns yearling was a future stayer of considerable merit as his two-year-old career was limited to three maidens over 6f.

He was, of course, trained by Sir Mark Prescott. Over the next couple of seasons, he won four handicaps at distances of up to 1m7f.

When Howard Johnson and Graham Wylie are restocking, they invariably turn to the Heath House Stables consignment at the sales, and at Tattersalls in 2003, soon after an unplaced run in the Cesarewitch, they bought Inglis Drever for 110,000gns.

He won his first three races over hurdles with such ease that he was sent off 7-4 favourite for the Royal & Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle, only to be touched off by Fundamentalist. That was to be his sole defeat in four visits to the festival.

In many respects, Inglis Drever mirrored the spirit of his trainer. Tenacious, no-nonsense and determined to get the job done his way, no matter how many tried to bully him otherwise. INGLIS DREVER won his championships under three different riders.

After Graham Lee engineered the defeat of the reigning champion Baracouda in 2005, the Racing Post's Bruce Jackson wrote in his analysis: "Inglis Drever is only a six-year-old and he looks sure to be at the top of the staying tree for some time - he has the World Hurdle at his feet."

With Inglis Drever having taken a fall - the only one of his career - at Chepstow the following Christmas, a tendon injury that required pinfiring meant he was off games for the next festival. He was back in 2007, when, under Paddy Brennan, he mastered Mighty Man and Blazing Bailey to claim his second World Hurdle.

It was then that Channel 4 viewers fell for the highspirited Wright. Israeli-born, the 44-year-old had overcome cancer and a serious car accident. Perhaps her attitude to life had something to do with her survival on both occasions.

"In life it's not so much what you go through, but how you come out of it, and my life could not be better now," she once said.

Her nickname for Inglis Drever is Popeye, due to his big eyes. "I love grooming him, he'll even lift a foot when I put on hoof oil," she said.

In the year that Inglis Drever was forced to miss the stayers' hurdle, the race was won by My Way De Solzen, and it takes no imagination to predict the likely outcome had the champ been present to defend his title. Last season Inglis, now ridden by Denis O'Regan, beat My Way De Solzen by 13 lengths into fifth.

When Inglis Drever limped off the course at Newbury on Hennessy Gold Cup day, the immediate fear by onlookers was for his life.

That, fortunately, was never in danger and, come the festival, the monster may stroll sedately over the hill to join the retirement parade of champions.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 22, 2009
Words:632
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