Racing: Best Mate in shape to hold challenge of Rembrandt

Today's The Day. Every blade of grass has been inspected and passed fit, every weather forecast scanned. Best Mate will, short of an overnight declaration of Armageddon, make his seasonal debut at Exeter this afternoon, his first race since becoming the first triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner since Arkle. It is the Oscar winner going back to the theatre where he first played rep; the nine-year-old made his chasing debut at the small country track on top of Haldon Hill and last appeared there three years ago.

Today's The Day. Every blade of grass has been inspected and passed fit, every weather forecast scanned. Best Mate will, short of an overnight declaration of Armageddon, make his seasonal debut at Exeter this afternoon, his first race since becoming the first triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner since Arkle. It is the Oscar winner going back to the theatre where he first played rep; the nine-year-old made his chasing debut at the small country track on top of Haldon Hill and last appeared there three years ago.

At the time, he was the subject of glowing advance notices and since then, of course, he has not only become a three-time Gold Cup champion and a charity fund-raiser through Mateyabilia, but also the horse who has come nearest to jumping the fence that divides his sport and wider public interest since Desert Orchid. Exeter is bracing itself for an invasion, with a crowd four times the norm for a damp Friday in November expected to truck along the A38, plus a media circus.

Yesterday Timmy Murphy, replacement for the injured Jim Culloty in the hallowed saddle, was playing the "just another day in the office" card ahead of his date on Mate with destiny. Today will be the first time the Irishman has ridden the superstar in public, though he did have a sit on him in private last weekend. "It is a great honour to ride such a talented chaser," he said. "And I know thousands will be at Exeter, but I'm not feeling any pressure. You can't let things like that affect you in big races. At the end of the day he is a racehorse, and I'm doing my job."

Murphy, 30, has taken advice from colleague Culloty. "I schooled the horse over a couple of fences on Saturday and he felt a million dollars," he said. "Obviously, I haven't partnered him in a race situation before, but I've ridden against him and I've sat down and had a good chat with Jim. I feel as if I know all I need to know."

Best Mate will face just three rivals in the William Hill Chase, a £65,000 two mile, seven furlong contest new to the programme book, and one formulated to attract the champ. Accidents apart, two of them, Seebald and Frenchman's Creek, though admirable performers in their own right, are surely playing for place money only.

However the third, Sir Rembrandt, is a worthy opponent, holding, as he does, the accolade of being the horse to have got closest to Best Mate in any of our hero's 13 wins. He was only half a length behind up the Cheltenham hill in March, at level weights, and receives 4lb today. On the book that should be enough to tip the balance and he has the advantage of a race under his girth this term.

"The race will not be a walk in the park," added Murphy, "and this is really just the start of his season. But he certainly isn't going there to get beaten. He is going there to do his best."

Best Mate has won first time out four seasons out of five, the exception being last year, when he was undone by a morass underfoot at Huntingdon and an uncharacteristic lack of match-fitness. Though her horses have not yet really started firing - four winners from 75 runners, and well-fancied Impek beaten at Clonmel yesterday - trainer Henrietta Knight is guardedly optimistic. "He's looking particularly well and going well," she said during the week. "We've been able to get more work into him on grass this autumn. Firm ground prevented us from doing so much last year and he was all at sea when he was beaten at Huntingdon. This time he'll not be so ring-rusty back on grass."

Neither is Knight concerned about the possibility of a tactical affair, for Jim Lewis's pride and joy has made his own running in the past, and won in a four-horse field on his last visit to this undulating track that suits an athlete of his balance so well. "A bigger field might be better," she said, "but it doesn't matter to him about the pace and he's an adaptable horse."

After the Cambridgeshire débâcle of 12 months ago, the Devon grass has been of particular interest to Knight this week and reports from Exeter yesterday indicate that its squishiness will be just right. The going is good, with some good to soft patches, and will remain so. "It has been spitting, but the rain gauge is still on zero," said a spokesperson.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone