03/17/2006 1:00AM

War Of Attrition wins Cheltenham Gold Cup


War of Attrition outlasted a gallant Hedgehunter to land the $700,000 Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase on Friday as Forget the Past completed a 1-2-3 St. Patrick's Day finish for Irish-trained runners in Britain's premier steeplechase event.

War of Attrition held safe by 2 1/2 lengths the late challenge of last year's Grand National winner, Hedgehunter, for whom victory would have made him the first horse since L'Escargot in the early 1970's to win both the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Trained by Mouse Morris and ridden by Conor O'Dwyer, War of Attrition covered the 3 5/16 miles and 21 fences, reduced by one as the runners were waved past the third-to-last to avoid a loose horse, in 6:31.70 on good ground.

With Hedgehunter trained by Willie Mullins and Forget the Past by Michael O'Brien, the 1-2-3 Irish finish was a repeat of the scenario in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle, when the Irish-trained Brave Inca, Macs Joy, and Hardy Eustace embarrassed the British on their home turf. L'Ami, trained in France by Francois Doumen, added insult to injury with his fourth-place Gold Cup finish.

Beef or Salmon, the 4-1 favorite in his fourth attempt at Gold Cup glory, made two mistakes running near the back of the 22-runner field for most of the way, and eventually came home 11th, 18 3/4 lengths behind War of Attrition.