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Saints head into the final furlong
AS the runners and riders enter the final furlong of the Championship hurdle, it looks to be a three horse race.
Leading the way by a nose is Nigel Adkins, riding the St Mary’s wonder horse to what he hopes will be a first taste of the elite winner’s enclosure.
He’s being closely followed by novice jockey Brian McDermott, on board the Royals of Reading, who has made a thrilling charge from the chasing pack to reduce the gap at the front.
Then there’s that experienced rider Sam Allardyce, who has been there and seen it all before but is struggling to stop his nag, the West Ham Hammers, from fading in the final stretch after being around the front since the off.
The bookies had the Hammers short priced favourites to win the race before the start.
But the heavily backed runner is potentially going to leave a few people out of pocket, unless it can dig deep in the run for home.
Saints have been right up there from the start and are looking very strong as the finishing line comes into sight.
The Royals stumbled over the last fence, but had been flying up until that point.
Forget the Cheltenham Gold Cup today, the Championship appears to be where the real excitement and drama will unfold.
The jockeys will doubtless be the most important factor – and they are at three very different stages of their careers.
Allardyce is the recognisable face, the household name.
He’s been at the top level for many years and ridden plenty of good horses in his time, helping them to success.
Allardyce has even been talked about in the past as a possible contender for riding the national horse.
Adkins, right, is not so much of a household name but has gained a reputation for his abilities within his sport.
After finishing his playing career, he started out as a physiotherapist rather than a jockey but took no second invitation to clamber on board and quickly enjoyed success at a much less glamorous yard in the north before switching to St Mary’s.
His stock has risen beyond measure but his biggest challenge is now ahead of him.
Unlike Allardyce, he doesn’t have the experience of taking a team over the finishing line at such a high level, let alone competing with the elite in the Premier League Gold Cup.
He will need to keep a firm hand on the reins and hold his nerve as well to ensure that a wonderful run to the final stretch doesn’t peter out.
McDermott is the rider who has come out of nowhere.
Forget being a physio, after dropping out of the sport McDermott was off selling insurance before he got back into the game.
He proved his worth behind the scenes at Madejski’s yard and was handed the star ride last season.
Such has been his success that he was even offered the chance to switch stables and leap to Premier League Gold Cup to try and save the flagging Wolves of Wolverhampton.
He opted to stay, however, to try and finish the job he started.
The Royals of Reading didn’t look in with a shout of challenging the two front runners. But an incredible sprint has seen them pass the Hammers and close in on the St Mary’s wonder horse.
The big question is whether McDermott has timed the run correctly or whether they have used up their sprint finish a little too early.
As the final furlong comes into sight, it’s an intriguing battle and one even the bookies are struggling to pick.