Cheltenham Festival: Lloyd serves up another ace with Song

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The Independent Online
IT MAY be true that success is all a question of hard work, but it still does not hurt to be born lucky. Enough millionaires to fill the Dorchester twice over have tried to buy success on the turf, yet when David Lloyd decided to divert some of the pounds 20m he made from selling his tennis centres into the uncertain medium of bloodstock, he came up with the top-class chaser Sound Man. Today, another of his handful of horses, His Song, will start favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and if punters backed the owners rather than their animals, he would probably be a shorter price still.

Little has gone wrong for Lloyd, either in business or on the turf, since he gave up his life as a journeyman tennis pro and started hiring out the courts instead. Although Sound Man's life was cut short by a tendon injury, his career brought 17 victories from 25 starts, and left Lloyd enthralled by racing.

"I was lucky to have such fun with Sound Man," he says. "He gave me my biggest thrill in racing when he was beaten by six inches in the Arkle Trophy by Klairon Davis. It was the most exciting race I have ever seen, just like the thrill of playing in the Davis Cup.

"He was a lovely animal, when you looked into his eyes you really felt as though you were getting through."

Lloyd is equally enthusiastic about His Song, who was bought on the recommendation of Mouse Morris, his trainer. "You don't get horses like this every day," he says. "He's got a great chance at Cheltenham and there's nothing I'd like better than standing in the winner's enclosure but, barring injury, he's got a chance of doing even greater things two years down the line."

Though he is now Britain's Davis Cup captain, Lloyd places the Cheltenham experience far above anything which tennis has to offer.

"No question, it has to be Cheltenham," he says. "I'd put it up there with the top sporting events in the world, higher than Wimbledon for sure. There's such excitement, with a great mix of all walks of life. There's Guinness drunk by the gallon, others sipping champagne and eating strawberries and yet the whole crowd is so knowledgeable."

Lloyd is far from alone in believing that His Song will take all the beating in the opener today - three million Irish people agree with him for a start. Certainly, he has a favourite's chance, but the worry about his price is that it depends rather heavily on what appeared to be an outstanding performance behind Istabraq in the Irish Champion Hurdle on his most recent run.

The last novice to run so well in that race was Danoli, and he duly landed a huge gamble at the Festival. An alternative view of the race, though, is that Istabraq is a little short of top class over two miles and His Song is simply a very promising novice, which makes today's odds desperately short.

He is one to oppose - a statement which is true of almost all Festival favourites - and Wahiba Sands (next best 2.00) could be the one to beat him. His early-season form - including a defeat of today's rival Zaralaska - was highly promising, and the fierce pace which seems certain today should bring further improvement.

There is value too in the Arkle Trophy, where LAKE KARIBA (nap 2.35), who put up an excellent trial at Warwick last time out, must be backed at the 14-1 offered by William Hill this morning. His price certainly makes more appeal than anything in the handicap chase which the same bookmaker now sponsors, but the remaining two events both offer possibilities.

With amateurs holding the reins, the Fulke Walwyn/Kim Muir Handicap Chase is not a race for the timid, but the generally available 9-1 against With Impunity (4.30) is worth a small interest.

The final race, meanwhile, offers another favourite to oppose in Unsinkable Boxer, who is trained by Martin Pipe and very much a stayer on the up, but still a laughable price at odds as low as 11-4. Spendid (5.30), from David Nicholson's yard, is better value at 16-1 (Coral), all the more so since Adrian Maguire will be assisting from the saddle.