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The Champion Hurdle picture took a new turn at Doncaster yesterday in the most appalling way possible. Second favourite Darlan took a crashing fall at the last fence, broke his neck, an injury that quickly proved fatal.
The fall came as a complete shock to the small crowd. AP McCoy had carried out a tracking job behind Rock On Ruby before moving out to deliver a challenge as they approached the final flight. He merely tickled the top of the birch before turning head over heels.
I have to own up to being the jinx on Darlan. I’ve seen him race twice. Both occasions were re-arranged races. I’ve seen him fall twice. I didn’t see him win any of the other five hurdle races he ran in. Last February I went to Newbury and saw the Betfred Hurdle, in which Darlan was going strongly when he came down two out. Yesterday I was at Doncaster.
I rather wish I hadn’t gone. Like most people there, I barely registered the end of the race, as my attention was on Darlan. There were no great cheers for Rock On Ruby when he crossed the line in front, and just a ripple of applause as Noel Fehily walked him back to the enclosures. The relief that comes when a fallen horse gets to its feet were missing yesterday, and it felt as if almost everyone at the course, trainers and jockeys included, would rather the rest of the card had been called off.
It was the second top quality horse in less a year that McCoy and owner JP McManus had shared the pain of losing a star. Gold Cup winner Synchronised lost his life in the Grand National last year after falling at Becher’s Brook. Nicky Henderson, trainer of Darlan said all that needed saying after the race. He was fighting to hold back the tears when he said, “He didn’t deserve that. Why is it always the good ones? Some game, isn’t it.”