Edredon Bleu, the 25-1 understudy for Best Mate, upstaged the finest they could throw at him in Kempton’s King George V1 Chase on Boxing Day.
Like Best Mate, who runs in Sunday’s Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown, Edredon Bleu is owned by Jim Lewis and trained by Henrietta Knight.
Best Mate won the race last year and it was as if Edredon Bleu was saying: “Anything you can do, I can better”.
Jim Culloty jumped him off in front and was only headed by France’s First Gold over the sixth and fifth last fences. Approaching the home straight Edredon Bleu looked cooked.
But Culloty rallied him and Edredon Bleu put his heart into every stride, jumping the last three as he had the previous 16 fences — perfectly. Culloty punched the air as he passed the post one-and-a-half lengths clear of Tiutchev with the 2000 winner First Gold back in third.
Lucky Jim Lewis greeted his 11-year-old, patted him on the nose and asked: “Who’s this horse, Best Mate?”
As usual, Ms Knight only half watched the action from afar, standing by the rails near the saddling boxes. With each of Edredon Bleu’s magnificent jumps in the home straight she slapped the rails with increasing determination and vigour.
“He is so economical, so gutsy and never says no,” she gasped. “Terry (her husband) normally does the crying but I must say Edredon did bring a tear to my eye this time.”
Referring to the people who had questioned her decision to switch Best Mate from the King George to Ireland and rely on Edredon Bleu instead, Ms Knight said: “I think that should put a few of them back in their baskets.”
Terry Biddlecombe, who had a fiver on Edredon Bleu at 33-1, said: “This horse just adores the game and I knew he’d get the trip. It is just reward for Jim, who missed the win on ‘Matey’ last year and rode a brilliant race here.”
First Gold’s trainer Francois Doumen said: “I am not disappointed. That was his comeback race and the Gold Cup has always been his objective.”
Jair Du Cochet, the favourite who made an horrendous blunder at third fence, was eventually pulled. Trainer Guilaume Macaire said: “After three fences I was sure of a disaster. The horse is OK, but I am not. This was too bad to be true.”
Tony McCoy made a telling remark as he returned on first race winner Contraband. Describing the ground, he said: “It’s perfect. I don’t want to cause a controversy, but I’d like to riding Best Mate on it.”
Of course, the champion jockey was referring to the fact that the dual Gold Cup hero, on whom he won last year’s King George, had been switched to Lepardstown in search of better going instead of returning to Kempton in front of his loyal home fans.
As it turns out, rain at Leopardstown has put Best Mate’s prospects in doubt. “It has rained quite seriously in Ireland and it is a huge worry,” said Lewis. “Henrietta will decide what happens. Let’s hope he runs.”