Better improves Brooks' ranking

RACING: Abundant celebrations follow a Hennessy triumph marred by favourite's withdrawal
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Along with the crushed receptacles and shredded tickets there was the debris of a broken image for workmen to shovel up at Newbury on Saturday.

The Hennessy Gold Cup had gone to Couldnt Be Better, a horse trained by Charlie Brooks, who is probably too much for some of the old school. In a sport where the upper echelons are almost exclusively in tweeds and ringing with public school accents, Brooks has the right background. He wears the gear and has snaps of his days at Eton in the album.

However, when it comes to aristocratic reserve, it is hard to get Charlie's reading off zero. He may have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he is one of those few privileged chaps who would not mind shoving a hot dog in there as well.

When he wins it becomes plainly obvious (he does not confine his celebration to just among owners) and when he comes into view his presence also becomes plainly obvious. Saturday's deviation from the traditional garb of the brotherhood was his favourite long, canary gaberdine.

In addition, his presence on the news pages (his relationship with Miriam Francome gets the society hacks in a lather of excitement) probably lead many to believe he did not have the qualities for the job. Like Lanfranco Dettori before him, the jealous considered he was having too much damned fun to be a true professional. As with Dettori, they will now have to reconsider. Saturday should finally leave in rubble the thought that Charlie Brooks is something of a dilettante.

This trainer, beneath the smiles and countenance which suggests he is something less than his 33 years, is desperately competitive. He once told this reporter that the day he thinks he cannot keep at the highest level will be the day he rummages in the desk for the P45.

The paperwork can lay undisturbed after the events of the weekend (the Uplands yard also captured the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle with Padre Mio), though Brooks himself was not in dancing mood immediately after the Hennessy. The trainer had been under a general anaethestic for a knee operation on Thursday and, judging from his sombre reaction, it appeared there was still dopiness in his body. He felt slightly empty because he had insisted that Graham Bradley, his riding lieutenant, should partner the stable's other runner in the big race, Black Humour. "I feel a bit guilty because I made Brad ride Black Humour," Brooks said. "The first thing he did when he came back was congratulate me. He's a first class bloke. He seemed more pleased than I did.''

Bradley was also praised by winning rider Dean Gallagher, the beneficiary of wise words on how to ride Couldnt Be Better. The wisdom, and indeed clarity, of their conversation was far more contentious on Saturday evening after the pair had joined a large party at the Queen's Arms in Lambourn.

The Hennessy had also been a big moment for Gallagher. At 26, the man from Co Kildare is not a buzz jockey in betting shops, but Brooks said: "He might be underestimated by the racing public but he isn't by the racing professionals.''

When it came to Gallagher's own assessment of his performance, someone had hidden the trumpet. "I just had to keep the horse balanced, get him jumping and make sure he got the trip," the jockey said. "He could have won with 12st on his back. I've ridden Dubacilla into second place in a Gold Cup, so I know what it takes to win it. He's in that class.''

The bookmakers have yet to be convinced however and Ladbrokes (not known as purveyors of unnecessary kindness) have Couldnt Be Better at 25-1 for Cheltenham next March. What is undisputed, though, is that the gelding's display saved a race that became dangerously adjacent to an anti-climax after One Man's late withdrawal. For a while the crowd's mood was as black as the sky.

Ante-post bets were lost on the grey (perhaps this explained Ladbrokes's munificence later on) when Gordon Richards announced the short-priced favourite would not be risked on ground which had turned from porridge flakes to the consistency after milk has been added.

One Man will get another chance to advertise his Gold Cup prospects, a feat accomplished at Punchestown on Saturday by Merry Gale. Coral saw the gelding's performance (he did little more than have to stay alive after the early departure of Klairon Davis) as reason to cut his price to 7-1 for Cheltenham. Before then the gelding may reward Bradley elsewhere, as he was yesterday named as the horse's partner for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

This weekend's series of events must also have cheered Richard Dunwoody, who stuck with Merry Gale despite being offered the ride on One Man. If the wind seemed to be whistling westwards off Newbury on Saturday, it may have been caused by the champion jockey's sigh of relief.