Having been cut from 10-1 to 8-1 for the King George VI Chase by Ladbrokes on Tuesday, Dublin Flyer was cut from the race altogether yesterday. The curse of the privatised utilities seems to have snared even the "Magic Sign" and the bookmakers' phone lines seem to be as frozen as Tim Forster's Downton gallops.
There is nothing wrong with the Captain's gelding. He has just found it more difficult than others of his trade to keep the horses going in the snap. Dublin Flyer becomes Forster's second fancied horse to be removed from the King George, following the injury to Martha's Son.
"He won't run on Saturday," the 10-year-old's owner, John Sumner, said yesterday. "Captain Forster hasn't been able to do enough work with him to get him ready. Tim has had even worse weather than us and we had it pretty bad. We thought there was no point in running him if he wasn't ready so we'll wait for another day. That could be in the John Bull Chase at Wincanton a week tomorrow.
"I have already won the King George with Royal Marshall II, but that doesn't make this any easier to take. You can never be confident in a steeplechase, but we were full of hope going to Kempton, although less so when it was switched to Sandown as that would not have suited him so well."
Another element of the race has been saved following the news that Merry Gale, Ireland's best staying chaser, is now to return to Britain. Jim Dreaper's gelding collected little more than duty frees and Big Ben-in- a-snowstorm trinkets on his aborted trip to the orginal Boxing Day date, and connections were doubting the wisdom of a return journey costing in the region of pounds 8,000 in transport.
A financial compromise for the flight has been reached however. "Everything seems to be in order now," Dreaper said yesterday. "A number of other horses, mainly broodmares, have appeared, which will bring down the cost of transporting them to England.
"The horse is fine. We missed a couple of days when we were at Kempton over Christmas and with the weather we missed about a week. But we haven't taken any chances and the thaw has helped."
The meteorologists can confidently predict Gales at the weekend as Josh Gifford's Sun Alliance Chase winner, Brief Gale, was also declared a runner yesterday. "Ideally we would not have been looking to run her in a race like the King George first time out, but she is well and will run," the trainer said. "Time is ticking by and there are not many races for good horses around."
A lick of gloss may also be removed from another of Esher's attractive races, the Tolworth Hurdle, following the announcement that See More Indians could miss the race. Unbeaten in three races this season, he had been scheduled to test the mettle of horses from the Flat such as River North, Mack The Knife and Right Win, until a rather lacklustre display on Paul Nicholls's gallops yesterday morning.
"He's not a definite runner because he didn't work as well as expected this morning," the trainer reported. "He didn't go quite as well as before the times he's won this season. We've taken a blood test from him and we'll see how that is in the morning and it might be that he just worked a bit lazily. He's a staying horse that will be better over a trip and if it's gone good to soft I'm not sure we'd want to go anyway.
"This horse is a potential three-mile chaser and not a champion hurdler. We know how good he is and we don't have to prove anything against these horses off the Flat. He's the best horse I've had so far and we're looking forward to the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle. But he's been bought as a three-mile chaser and he'll go novice chasing next year whatever happens at Cheltenham."
The Tolworth should nevertheless be a contest of some excitement as it features the hurdling debut of the Group One-winning River North, who has schooled well and will have the advantage of Richard Dunwoody at the control panel. He is from the Celtic Swing stable of Lady Herries, who earlier last year invited the nation's press round to Angmering Park to view the Flat season's great hope. On Saturday, her River North faces Mack The Knife, whose trainers would only have the Fourth Estate on their premises if they fancied a spot of target practice.
Dick Hern, who prepared Mack The Knife on the Flat, and the horse's current trainer, Martin Pipe, are not men noted for posting bulletins on notice boards or taking out page ads in the trade newspapers to inform about their horses. Perhaps Mack The Knife will tell us all we need to know this weekend.Reuse content