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Nicholls sets sights on Best Mate clash after Armaturk turns tables; Arkle third reverses form with Festival runner-up Seebald after surviving lengthy stewards' inquiry.

Byline: Graham Cunningham.

ARMATURK reversed Cheltenham form with Seebald and is primed to take on the mighty Best Mate early next season after

surviving a lengthy stewards'

inquiry into the finish of the Martell Maghull Novices' Chase, writes Graham Cunningham.

The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding finished 13 lengths behind Seebald when the pair filled the placings behind Moscow Flyer

in the Arkle Chase at the Festival, but he was expected to make a closer race of it in a smaller field and around this much sharper circuit.

He did more than that, knuckling down tenaciously for Timmy Murphy despite hampering Seebald as he wandered off the

bridle, giving his followers a few anxious moments while officials scrutinised the video of his length-and-a-quarter victory.

Tony McCoy felt he lost at least as much ground as he was beaten by, but bookmakers were happy to lay his mount Seebald at 5-1 to get the race. They were proved right when the panel ruled that the interference had been

accidental and had no bearing on the result.

The winner was given a warm welcome by his owner Barry Marshall, chief executive of a brewery chain in Russia who had flown in from St Petersburg via Stockholm on Friday to see the race.

Nicholls, in turn, was relieved to see Armaturk none the worse for a tough race on drying

ground as he mulled over the options.

He said: "We've been able to play the weight-for-age card with him as a five-year-old this season, but he's done us proud and this was always going to be a more suitable track for him.

"He did run around and look around in the straight, but the other horse simply wasn't good enough to get past him and he had to keep the race."

Nicholls has not ruled out the possibility of heading for Punchestown with Armaturk next and is looking forward to a date with Gold Cup winner Best Mate at Exeter in October.

He said: "He will probably

have to be trained with the

Champion Chase in mind next season, but I'd love to have a crack at the Haldon Gold Cup with him.

"We would be getting plenty of weight from Best Mate there, as it's a limited handicap."

Martin Pipe felt Seebald "ran a cracking race despite being stopped", but Fondmort continued Nicky Henderson's frustrating meeting by fading tamely into third.

The Nicholls second string,

St Pirran, broke a blood vessel

in fourth.

Martell Maghull Novices' Chase

1 Armaturk (5-2) T Murphy

2 Seebald (evs f) A P McCoy

3 Fondmort (7-2) M Fitzgerald

Owner B C Marshall

Trainer P Nicholls

CAPTION(S):

Armaturk (5) leads Seebald over the final fence as he battles bravely to win the Grade 1 Maghull Novices' Chase
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 8, 2002
Words:459
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