'Unbelievable' Direct Route dies, aged 22
Last Updated: 03/09/13 6:07pm
The photo print from that thrilling Champion Chase in 2000
Howard Johnson labelled Direct Route "as good a horse as I ever trained" after the popular chaser was put down at the age of 22.
The gelding won 15 of his 40 starts for the former County Durham trainer, claiming five Grade One prizes over fences including two Melling Chases at Aintree and the Tingle Creek at Sandown.
But he is perhaps best remembered for going down by a short head to Edredon Bleu in an exhilarating climax to the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2000, a race in which he had finished third 12 months earlier.
Since his retirement in 2002, Direct Route spent his days at part-owner Chris Heron's farm in Yorkshire, but Johnson confirmed he suffered a broken leg in the paddocks on Monday.
Johnson said: "He was a great horse - along with Inglis Drever he'd be as good a horse as I ever trained.
"He loved Aintree, but wasn't a lucky horse at Cheltenham. The year he just got beaten in the Champion Chase it looked like it was a dead-heat or we'd just won, we couldn't believe we'd lost.
"A couple of years earlier we thought we'd win the Arkle there and Dobbs (Tony Dobbin) fell off him. He wasn't very happy!
"He was an unbelievable horse really as he got an injury to his pelvis as a foal and was all wrong behind and then he had a twisted foot, but he was so tough."
"We won a bumper at Market Rasen first time out, we absolutely cleaned up and Mary Reveley (former trainer) was interested in buying him after that and came to look at him.
"She said 'Howard, the horse won't come down the hill at Hexham'. I said 'No, but he'll go up the hill at Cheltenham'.
"Sir Robert Ogden was interested in buying him as well, but we decided not to sell and he did great for us and his owners, Michael Thompson and Chris Heron.
"Those were the days, the days I enjoyed going racing.
"It's hard to compare him and Inglis Drever. They were two totally different horses but both were great to have anything to do with.
"It's sad he broke his leg, but he had a good life."