King aims to close in on Baracouda

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The Independent Online

For all his mighty reputation, Baracouda's rivals do not appear to be running scared. The same, however, cannot be said for their trainers. "Petrified," said Alan King yesterday, "A horse like that deserves the utmost respect. He's won 17 races. But we've got to take him on. That's what racing is all about."

For all his mighty reputation, Baracouda's rivals do not appear to be running scared. The same, however, cannot be said for their trainers. "Petrified," said Alan King yesterday, "A horse like that deserves the utmost respect. He's won 17 races. But we've got to take him on. That's what racing is all about."

French-trained Baracouda, the outstanding marathon specialist of recent years, will face seven rivals in the Long Walk Hurdle at Windsor tomorrow, including the three who chased him home when he made his seasonal reappearance in the Long-Distance Hurdle at Newbury three weeks ago. That trio was headed by King's charge Crystal D'Ainay, who was just three-quarters of a length adrift. At Cheltenham in March, when Baracouda lost his Stayers' Hurdle crown to the young pretender Iris's Gift, Crystal D'Ainay was 14 lengths back. "Maybe we are closing the gap," said King, "and nothing is invincible, and ours is in grand form. But he sets a high standard."

Baracouda, winner of the Long Walk in 2000, 2001 and 12 months ago, is now nine. Crystal D'Ainay is just five, and the older horse's trainer, François Doumen, has nominated him as the one to be feared in tomorrow's confrontation. "You would think that ours would be the one that is improving," added King. "He was barely ready when he was second at Wetherby first time out, so it was no great surprise that he ran so well at Newbury. But against that, it was Baracouda's first run of the season, so you'd think that he'd come on for it."

The Long Walk has been transferred to the Thames-side track while Ascot, its traditional home, is being rebuilt, and its twisting figure-of-eight contours will present a new test, but in his youth French-bred Crystal D'Ainay did win round Angers and Bordeaux, which both require a degree of nippiness.

Kadara and Telemoss are the pair who came third and fourth at Newbury last month. The field is completed by the Martin Pipe duo Ilnamar, a Grade One winner at Aintree two years ago and a respectable third at Windsor last month on his first run for 22 months, and It Takes Time, disappointing in recent chases; Sh Boom, a Grade Two winner at Haydock last term; Geos, winner of two Tote Gold Trophies; and, from Ireland, versatile Rule Supreme, hero of both the Royal & SunAlliance Chase and French Champion Hurdle this year.

"In a race like this no one can be confident," added King. "There are others in the equation and it's competitive. But then it should be, it's a £75,000 Grade One."

Another of the significant contests transferred from Ascot is today's Grade Two novices' two-mile hurdle, in which the admirable Marcel, who failed in his bid for an eight-timer after being forced to make his own running at Haydock 13 days ago, attempts to regain the winning thread.

At Exeter yesterday, Jim Culloty reported no ill effects after riding King Killone into fourth place, his first ride since breaking a bone in his thumb at the track early last month. "I'm very happy with the hand," he said, "it felt fine". Culloty continues his progress towards renewing his partnership with Best Mate this afternoon at Windsor, where he partners two of the triple Gold Cup hero's stablemates, Harris Bay and Magnificent Seven.

The race in which King Killone came fourth, the Toby Balding Novices' Hurdle, went to the Philip Hobbs-trained Gold Medallist, a high-class Flat runner when with David Elsworth. The four-year-old, who won at Group Two level in France in August, jumped fluently and stayed on powerfully to defeat one of last term's best bumper horses, Secret Ploy. Poignantly, the contest named in honour of recently-retired Balding, winner of a Gold Cup, Grand National and Champion Hurdle, was run on the day that his wife of 45 years, Caro, died after a long battle with cancer.

Timmy Murphy's appeal against a seven-day ban which currently rules him out of the post-Christmas festivals will be heard early next week to allow time for his legal team to prepare his case. But one man who will be at the Jockey Club's London headquarters this morning is Len Lungo, who will make the journey from Dumfriesshire to protest against the decision by the Ayr stewards last week to fine him the maximum £2,000 under the "non-triers" rule. The penalty was imposed after the trainer's charge Mr Tim, ridden by Willie Dowling, finished fifth in a novices' hurdle and although Dowling is not contesting his 14-day ban, Lungo is adamant that in his own case the Ayr panel misinterpreted the rule, which concerns instructions given to the jockey to ensure a horse runs on its merits.

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