Atrium registered the biggest success of his career as he prevailed in a thrilling finish to the Howden Challenge Cup at Ascot.
The stands side was the place to be in the ultra-competitive handicap – the most valuable race on the card – and both Charlie Fellowes’ winner and the in-form Popmaster emerged from the shadows of pacemakers Lethal Levi and Ancestral Land to engage in a titanic tussle in the closing stages.
Ed Walker’s Popmaster was attempting to add to a Listed win he notched up at Newbury last time, but he could not shrug off the Harry Davies-ridden, Highclere-owned Atrium, who got the nod in a photo finish after the two protagonists passed the winning post in unison.
The winner returned an official winning verdict of a nose as he landed an upset at 25-1 and Fellowes was thrilled to see the four-year-old back to his best.
He said: “He’s been a star of a horse and he’s won five or six times over the last couple of years, but has never really won a big one. He’s always won nice handicaps but never one of the big ones.
“He deserved to win a big one and I’m over the moon for the horse and I’m over the moon for the owners because there is no better place to win a big handicap than Ascot and he did it really well.
“He had a really, really hard race at Doncaster when he won about three starts ago. It was on really soft ground and he had a hard race and when he came back from that his enthusiasm for racing just wasn’t the same. He was coming out the stalls very slowly and half thinking about things.
“We did a few things at home to just try and spark him up again and rekindle some enthusiasm. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but when it does it is particularly satisfying and today he raced like a horse in love with racing. He jumped out the gates good and travelled as well as anything and he really fought against a really tough horse in Popmaster.”
Atrium holds an entry for the Balmoral Handicap on Qipco British Champions Day but a return to Ascot is not guaranteed, with Fellowes cautious of asking his charge to go into battle again with a big date in the sales ring looming.
“I do very much have in the back of mind how hard the Doncaster race hit him,” he added.
“He’s in the horses in training sale and I think if the owners were keeping him next year I would be more interested in running again. But he’s due to be sold and potentially it would be a silly move to go and run him again quickly two weeks later after he’s had a hard race and if he was to run poorly it may give potential buyers a question mark over him.
“We’ll see. I would love to run him if we were keeping him, but he’s going to go to the sales and there is a decision to be made.”