Heavens opening for Blessed in Hennessy

The last time Newbury held a race meeting, you could have enjoyed a picnic in the middle of the home straight without running the slightest risk of injury. Not so tomorrow, though, when easy going will ensure a healthy field for the Hennessy Gold Cup, and anyone who is feeling the November chill will be able to warm themselves on the glow of satisfaction radiating from Mark Kershaw, the clerk of the course.

The last time Newbury held a race meeting, you could have enjoyed a picnic in the middle of the home straight without running the slightest risk of injury. Not so tomorrow, though, when easy going will ensure a healthy field for the Hennessy Gold Cup, and anyone who is feeling the November chill will be able to warm themselves on the glow of satisfaction radiating from Mark Kershaw, the clerk of the course.

When faced by a succession of pitiful fields three weeks ago, Kershaw pointed out that it would have been unwise to water the course so close to the Hennessy meeting. It was a far-sighted decision, since with 5mm of rain expected at Newbury tomorrow, the ground, which was already riding on the soft side of good, should be to everyone's liking by tomorrow afternoon.

Mark Pitman was the latest trainer to visit the track and praise its condition yesterday, clearing the way for Ever Blessed to take his place in the Hennessy.

"I was very happy, I thought the course was in super condition," Pitman said. "They've obviously worked very hard on it, there is a good covering of grass. The horse is very well and I think it will boil down to the fact that if he jumps well he will take a lot of beating, but if he makes any mistakes, he'll get beat. I think he's absolutely spot on."

The news had no effect on Ever Blessed's price for the big race, and he remains on offer at 6-1 with both Ladbrokes and Coral. Yesterday's movers were Djeddah (7-1 from 8-1) and Betty's Boy (12-1 from 16-1) with Ladbrokes, and Fiddling The Facts, third in the race last year, who is 9-1 from 11-1 with Coral.

There were 15 final declarations yesterday for the big Flat race of the weekend, Sunday's Japan Cup in Tokyo. There are three British-based entries, Alborada, Fruits Of Love and High-Rise, who are drawn nine, 11 and 12 respectively.

Europe's principal standard-bearer, though, is Montjeu, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, who has been drawn out wide in stall 14, and whose chance would be further enhanced by any rain between now and off-time. Borgia, trained by André Fabre, and the German runner, Tiger Hill, are the other foreign challengers, while Special Week, third 12 months ago, looks to be the best of the eight-strong Japanese defence force.

The rather less exotic surroundings of Bangor may be the setting today for yet another benchmark performance by Martin Pipe, who has more records to his name these days than Boyzone and Britney combined. A double at Taunton yesterday left Pipe on 99 winners for the season, and one more today would take him to three figures more rapidly than even he has ever managed before.

"We had a couple of winners and a near miss here today and the horses all seem to be running very well," Pipe said at the Somerset track. "I'm actually going to Newbury tomorrow where we run six, but I think my best chances of winners is at Bangor where we will have a couple of runners, Big Wheel and Rash Remark, in the first two races."

Pipe has now saddled 22 winners in the last 14 days. "The run seemed to start when I went on holiday and my son David was in charge," he said, "so perhaps I should go away more often."

Alan Munro, though, has rather less to look forward to with relish. The jockey, who won the 1991 Derby on Generous, has been banned for more than two months after he was found guilty of failing to gain the best possible placing on Silent Partner in the last race at Sha Tin on Sunday.

The horse finished sixth of 14 after making late headway in a Class Two handicap. Munro will be allowed to ride at Sha Tin tomorrow, but will then be banned for the next 16 meetings, until 2 February.

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