Jumpers out in force as Trouble looms

True devotees of jumps racing, those people who have been pining for the return of top-class chasers ever since the season (officially) began back in April, may feel slightly peeved on Saturday that having waited almost seven months for a decent race, they now find three coming along at once. They must now decide whether to head for Haydock, where Beau is an entry for the Edward Hanmer Chase, Down Royal, the venue for the seasonal debut of Looks Like Trouble, the Gold Cup winner, or headquarters itself, Cheltenham, for the Thomas Pink Gold Cup.

True devotees of jumps racing, those people who have been pining for the return of top-class chasers ever since the season (officially) began back in April, may feel slightly peeved on Saturday that having waited almost seven months for a decent race, they now find three coming along at once. They must now decide whether to head for Haydock, where Beau is an entry for the Edward Hanmer Chase, Down Royal, the venue for the seasonal debut of Looks Like Trouble, the Gold Cup winner, or headquarters itself, Cheltenham, for the Thomas Pink Gold Cup.

The latter is the spiritual kicking-off point for the entire winter campaign, although finding another new name attaching itself to what was for so long the Mackeson will do little to cement its place in punters' hearts. Twenty-eight runners remain after the declarations yesterday, the top weight being Fadalko, who was an impressive winner at Wincanton recently and is set to carry 11st 10lb. Paul Nicholls, his trainer, may also run Norski Lad, while Venetia Williams, the winner of the race last year with The Outback Way, has entered Davoski, another chaser with recent winning form. As for Martin Pipe, he can take his pick from six entries, including Exit Swinger, Majadou, and Dark Stranger, a winner over course and distance at the Festival.

With the Edward Hanmer also competing for the attention of the leading steeplechasers, not to mention the possibility of further rain, several names appear in the entries for both races. Davoski, who is the 7-1 favourite for the Thomas Pink Gold Cup with Ladbrokes and Hills, could yet travel to Haydock, leaving Fadalko, who also carries the colours of Robert Ogden, to represent the owner at Cheltenham. "We'll run him where we think he has the best chance of winning," Williams said yesterday, "but we won't know until nearer the time."

Exit Swinger is also prominent in the betting, along with Legal Right, who has not raced since a brilliant 22-length win in the Tripleprint Gold Cup at Cheltenham almost a year ago.

"The intention is to run and the ground should be all right for him," Jonjo O'Neill, his trainer, said yesterday. "The only problem is that it looks as if Tony [McCoy] will be riding for Martin Pipe but if he was available he would ride."

As well as betting on Saturday's race, punters facing a blank day over the jumps today can also study the Gold Cup lists, and decide whether to back - or oppose - Looks Like Trouble, the defending champion, before his seasonal debut at Down Royal on Saturday.

The clash between the James Nicholson Ulster Champion Chase and the Thomas Pink Gold Cup at Cheltenham is a little unfortunate from the point of view of the courses, and will be even more so if something spreads a plate before the Cheltenham race, since the Ulster Champion Chase is due off just 10 minutes later. There is at least no doubt about Looks Like Trouble getting a race, however, with Mike Todd, the course manager at Down Royal, reporting yesterday that the track has survived the recent poor weather unscathed.

Looks Like Trouble will travel to Ulster today to prepare to renew acquaintance with Florida Pearl, the runner-up in the Gold Cup. The pair are locked together at 5-4 in the book on the race opened yesterday by the Irish layer Liam Cashman, with Dorans Pride, another evergreen, on 8-1, and Micko's Dream, who took tens of thousands of punters' pounds with him when falling at the first in the Grand National, at 10-1.

There is a high-class card at Cheltenham on Sunday too, including the £25,000 novice chase won by Fadalko and Mister Morose in the last two seasons and sponsored this year by The Independent. Among 10 entries made yesterday were Alcapone (Mouse Morris) and Khairabar (Christy Roche) from Ireland, while Best Mate, one of last year's finest novice hurdlers, leads the home team.

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