Michael O’Leary retires Last Instalment after Cheltenham Gold Cup fall

• Nine year old runs final race after unseating Brian O'Connell
• BHA spared more controversy as Lord Windermere wins

Last Instalment, the horse that began the day as the most unpopular Gold Cup chance in recent memory given the doping charges hanging over his trainer, ended it having been retired by his owner, Michael O'Leary.

Given the reminders this week of the very real dangers national hunt racing poses to horse and jockey, no one involved in the sport would ever cheer a faller. But there were undoubtedly huge sighs of relief among the sport's administrators that the winner of the Gold Cup was not Last Instalment, who started despite the doping allegations facing the third favourite's trainer, Philip Fenton, but Lord Windermere.

The horse started well, remaining in the leading group throughout the first half of the race and hit the front at one stage on the first circuit of the course.

At that point, the PR disaster and reputational damage that the British Horseracing Authority must have feared ever since concluding that there was nothing they could do to stop Fenton's three runners competing looked possible.

But by the time Last Instalment, owned by O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, unseated jockey Brian O'Connell six from home he was visibly tiring and dropping back through the field and was subsequently found to have a recurrence of a leg injury.

Afterwards, O'Leary – who had lobbied the BHA to allow the horse to run – said he was going to retire the nine-year-old. The Ryanair founder had plenty to celebrate elsewhere on the final day of the Festival with four other winners – Very Wood, Tiger Roll, Don Poli and Savello.

Fenton was last month revealed to be facing charges for the possession of unauthorised animal remedies, including anabolic steroids, following an Irish Department of Agriculture inspection in January 2012.

The governing body came to the view that it legally had no option but to let Last Instalment, plus two other Fenton trained horses, run this week after tests and an investigation found no evidence they had been treated with steroids.

So on one of the few days of the year when the rest of the sporting world turns to racing, the winner of the Festival's showpiece was a feelgood tale of unexpected triumph rather than the latest chapter in racing's difficult year of doping scandals. In a Guardian interview on the eve of the Festival Irish trainer Willie Mullins had said this year's Cheltenham would be forever known as "the year of the cloud". A relieved BHA will now turn to the publication of a report in mid-April that is due to propose stronger penalties and beef up its testing regime.

O'Leary had written a strongly worded letter to the BHA asserting the right of Last Instalment to run. On the morning of the race O'Leary's brother Eddie, who runs their racing operation, was even more outspoken, saying he "couldn't care less" about the reaction if Last Instalment won. "There could be booing, cheering, and I wouldn't give a rat's backside," he said.

The Fenton revelations came hard on the heels of two other major scandals that have rocked the sport. First came the al-Zarooni affair 11 months ago, when a trainer employed by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Stable was banned for eight years for administering steroids to 15 horses.

Later that month, Irish trainer Gerard Butler admitted to using Sungate, a treatment for joints that contains anabolic steroids.

As the Cheltenham caravan packs up for another year, attention will now turn to the rather less colourful surroundings of Carrick-on-Suir court on 20 March, where Fenton will answer eight charges of possession of anabolic steroids and other banned substances. For the BHA and racing's administrators, the respite may only be temporary. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

About the Author

Comments are closed.