Racing: Ashley Brook's speed can keep Best Mate at bay

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The Independent Online

If not Best Mate then which horse will it be that wins this afternoon's Haldon Gold Cup? The triple Gold Cup winner faces a mountainous task over a distance that is far too short and against rivals who will be far too fast.

Take into account that the Henrietta Knight-trained 10-year-old concedes weight to all the other runners, that he has not raced for 10 months, that he was well beaten in that last run by Beef Or Salmon at Leopardstown, and that he has burst a blood vessel at exercise since and it becomes clear that this is definitely not the day to back him. If Best Mate finishes in the first four it will be a very good performance.

It is not only the Best Mate team who will be looking warily at some of the young chasers out to claim the big horse's scalp today. A host of claimants to Moscow Flyer's throne as the leader of the two-mile division parade their talents.

Normally it would be the winner of the previous season's Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival that is regarded as the heir apparent to the Champion Chase crown but David Johnson, owner of the 2005 Arkle winner, Contraband, sees things differently.

"I think Ashley Brook is the one to beat," Johnson said yesterday. "We're 5lb better off with him than when we beat him in the Arkle but he easily beat us at Aintree when we weren't at the races."

Kevin Bishop, trainer of Ashley Brook, is similarly cautious. "It's a very hot contest. One or two of the outsiders are not out of it," the Somerset trainer said. "We've got to give Kauto Star 9lb. That looks a big ask if he's as good as connections believe he is.

Ashley Brook, a dual course winner, signed off the last campaign with a convincing win in a Grade One novice chase at Aintree, where he accounted for War Of Attrition by 16 lengths.

"Before he won at Liverpool we were thinking of going further with him, but he was so impressive over two miles on a tight track. We thought after that we would explore the two-mile route. We'll stick to around that distance unless Paddy [Brennan, his jockey] comes in and says he's crying out for further.

"Best Mate may well want further but he's come down the ratings and we are only getting 6lb from him. I'm not concerned about the ground. It was soft when he won there first time out last season and he didn't mind."

Kauto Star has been sidelined through injury since falling and being controversially remounted by Ruby Walsh at this track nine months ago when he still managed to get within a short-head of the winner, Mistral De La Cou.

"He's in good order," Paul Nicholls, his trainer, said. "But we've been fairly easy on him. Whatever he does tomorrow he will improve for the run."

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Chilling Place

(Exeter 3.10)

NB: Moscow Whisper

(Exeter 3.40)