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The Paul Nicholls-trained Unioniste becomes first four-year-old to win December Gold Cup

Updated: Saturday, 15 Dec 2012 16:04 | Comments

Making a big splash. Unioniste (right) on his way to victory in the IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup at Cheltenham
Making a big splash. Unioniste (right) on his way to victory in the IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup at Cheltenham

Unioniste created history by becoming the first four-year-old to win the Paul Stewart Ironspine Charity Challenge Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Owned by John Hales, the grey only got into the race as the first reserve but the 15-2 chance took full advantage to give the owner and trainer Paul Nicholls a famous double after winning the Paddy Power with Al Ferof.

Alan King's Walkon chased home Al Ferof and once again had to settle for second.

Young jockey Harry Derham bided his time and a big leap at the last sealed the deal and he won by 11 lengths.

Coming down the hill a fairytale result looked likely when Andy Stewart's Tatenen slipped the field but a jolting mistake put paid to his chances.

Unfortunately for Nicholls his other runner Cristal Bonus appeared to break down.

Nicholls said: "It was a good little plan. I was pleased with his handicap mark and he knows how to jump, I thought he might not get a chance in a race like this again.

"Harry [Derham] gave him a peach of a ride and it's great for him to win a race like this."

Referencing the much-publicised departure of Kauto Star from his yard, Nicholls went on: "After the week we've had, I can assure you I've never had a more embarrassing or unenjoyable week like that in my life.

"I apologise for everything that has gone on and I've never been more embarrassed, so to end it with a win like this is great. Onwards and upwards.

"I backed him last week at 12s but I had to sweat a bit over whether he'd get in.

"It's sad Cristal Bonus has got hurt because I fancied him a bit today as well."

Derham, 18, said: "You've got Ruby (Walsh), Daryl (Jacob) and Ryan Mahon in the stable so there's a pecking order and I was absolutely delighted to get the chance.

"The horse made my life very easy, he's very strong for a four-year-old and I always knew I had a bit left.

"It's a great honour to ride a big race winner here for Mr Hales."

Nicholls added: "He'll have a month off now, I've got novice chasing to go back to if I want and he'll have an entry for the RSA, but the big plan was today."

It was later confirmed by Dan Skelton, assistant trainer to Nicholls, that Cristal Bonus had suffered a fatal injury.

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