"In a finish to a race which encapsulated the very essence of National Hunt racing". Read the 95/96 Chasers & Hurdlers essay on Dublin Flyer.
A season which promised so much for Dublin Flyer ended with disappointment. He won the Mackeson Gold Cup at Cheltenham on his reappearance but ran just twice afterwards, missing the King George in favour of a relatively minor event at Wincanton and being pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup for which he started third favourite.
For a chaser at the peak of his career, well capable of competing in the best company, and with no reported injury problems during the season, this was a sorry record of underachievement indeed. Dublin Flyer has had progressively fewer runs with each of his four seasons over fences, his notoriously-pessimistic trainer reportedly believing that he's a horse who needs a good break between races.
While Dublin Flyer undoubtedly goes well fresh (in common with many of his stable companions who are usually well forward for their seasonal bow) there is no evidence to suggest he needs to be fresh to perform to his best. Indeed, the performance of his career prior to the latest season had come in the John Hughes Memorial at Aintree, which came twenty-two days after quite a gruelling race for the Mildmay of Flete in which he'd finished second to Kadi.
After the John Hughes, the Grand National appeared sure to figure on Dublin Flyer's agenda in the latest season, but though he was entered it was made clear that he wouldn't run in both the Gold Cup and the National because of the shorter-than-usual period between the races. Rough Quest comprehensively showed the merit of that argument.
That Dublin Flyer was worth his place in the Gold Cup was questioned by some but his Mackeson performance, while not good enough in itself to win a Gold Cup, suggested he was still improving and entitled to a chance in the best races. It was a tremendously game performance as well. He set off in front as usual, though not setting so strong a pace as he often does, and he had plenty queuing behind him to challenge at the fourth last before responding to all his jockey's urgings and holding the lead to the last where Egypt Mill Prince looked to take his measure.
However, in a finish to a race which encapsulated the very essence of National Hunt racing, Dublin Flyer rallied in splendid style to lead again close home. He held Egypt Mill Prince by half a length with Big Matt, who'd have been considerably closer without a mistake at the last, four lengths back in third. Though a couple of the more fancied runners. Buckboard Bounce and Coulton (who started joint favourite with the winner), failed to give their running the form looked solid enough. Big Matt won the Victor Chandler on his next outing and Egypt Mill Prince ran well when runner-up to the very generously handicapped Lonesome Glory at Sandown.
Dublin Flyer was to go straight for the King George after the Mackeson. He wasn't even entered for the Tripleprint Gold Cup which he'd won the year before, though the race was lost to the weather. anyway. So too was the Kempton Christmas fixture and with the transfer of the King George to Sandown in January went Dublin Flyer's initial crack at the top flight.
The icy weather had held up his training routine and it was reported a few days before the race that he wouldn't be ready to run. As the owner told The Sporting Life: "There's no point in running him if he isn't ready, so we will wait for another day."
That, somewhat surprisingly, proved to be just five days later in the John Bull Chase at Wincanton where, turned out in immaculate condition, he overcame an uncharacteristic blunder five out to beat Travado and Viking Flagship seven lengths and eight at level weights in a field of four. Some were inclined to take a negative view of the form but there are no grounds for thinking Travado didn't give his running and the race was a further indication that Dublin Flyer was ready for a chance in a top race. It was announced afterwards that he'd go for the Gold Cup without a prep-race.
The late-January Cheltenham meeting which might have provided a suitable opportunity was another victim of the winter and opportunities that might have seemed suitable such as the Racing Post Chase or the Jim Ford Chase were spurned. Dublin Flyer started third favourite for the Gold Cup behind One Man and Imperial Call, a position his form entitled him to, but he ran too badly to be true.
As in the Mackeson he was settled in front but was quickly in trouble when headed at the fourteenth and he was tailed off when pulled up soon after. No explanation emerged subsequently for his poor showing. The Gold Cup hasn't been a lucky race for his trainer whose most recent runner before Dublin Flyer, Cherrykino, was killed in the race in 1993.
Previously he had Pegwell Bay pulled up when a 25/1-shot in 1989 and the novice Drumadowney fourth in 1985. Given his good overall record with chasers, his record at the Festival is a bit disappointing too. Maamur was his first winner there since 1979 when Casbah won the Grand Annual and Redundant Punter the Kim Muir. There had been six seconds in the interim, including Dublin Flyer's two in the Mildmay of Flete.
So the Gold Cup was the end of Dublin Flyer's season. Given the limited amount of racing he's had it's possible that he'll get another chance to prove himself in either the King George or the Gold Cup though chances are that, being a year older, he won't be able to make the bit of improvement probably required to win either.
It could be that the National will again become the chief target in 1996/7, though the trainer apparently doubts Dublin Flyer's stamina (reportedly he has visions of him "doing a Crisp). Some expressed the view that the horse wouldn't even stay three and a quarter miles but they must have lost their form-books. Although prior to the Gold Cup Dublin Flyer hadn't raced beyond two and three quarter miles in the last two seasons he'd spent most of his early career racing over three miles plus, showing he stayed the trip perfectly well. His performances in the John Hughes and the Mackeson indicated that he might well improve returned to three miles or more.
The John Hughes suggested he was tailormade for the National and nothing he's done since has altered that. The big, well-made Dublin Flyer is a bold-jumping, front-running, most resolute chaser and he'd be a fine sight leading the field at Aintree. His pedigree was fully covered in Chasers & Hurdlers 1994/95 and the only thing to add is that Dublin Freddy, who's out of a half-sister to Dublin Flyer, won a bumper in the latest season.