Racing: Best Mate to tread familiar path in quest for hat-trick

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The Independent Online

It was business as usual for chasing's champion yesterday, and will be in the future. Best Mate, who on Thursday became the first dual Gold Cup winner for 32 years, looked in splendid fettle as he played the perfect host to his friends at West Lockinge Farm, posing like the gentleman he always is at the morning-after debriefing and photocall, accepting pats and Polo mints with his usual amazing grace.

It was business as usual for chasing's champion yesterday, and will be in the future. Best Mate, who on Thursday became the first dual Gold Cup winner for 32 years, looked in splendid fettle as he played the perfect host to his friends at West Lockinge Farm, posing like the gentleman he always is at the morning-after debriefing and photocall, accepting pats and Polo mints with his usual amazing grace.

But his growing fan base will have to wait until the autumn to see him again. Henrietta Knight, his trainer, confirmed that Jim Lewis's superstar will have just the two outings before trying to emulate Arkle by taking a third blue riband. "He'll travel the same route as last year," she said. "He'll go to Exeter [for the Haldon Gold Cup] or Huntingdon [Peterborough Chase], depending on where the ground is best. Then it will be the King George and then Cheltenham."

Despite his aplomb around humans, Best Mate will not be copying another of the great jumpers in his sights, Desert Orchid. "He will not be opening fêtes during the close season," added Knight. "He needs his holiday. We'll let him down slowly, fiddle around with him. When the weather gets nice he'll spend all day in the field. This time last year we started planning for 2003, and now we start the build-up to 2004."

There are just nine Gold Cup winners rated ahead of Best Mate, in the view of the most respected arbiters of such matters, the team at Timeform. Thursday's 10-length tour de force has earned the eight-year-old a figure of 182; the ones judged better are Arkle (212), Mill House (191), Easter Hero (190), Golden Miller (188), Desert Orchid (187), Burrough Hill Lad (184), and Prince Regent, Pas Seul and Master Oats (all 183).

However, the figure, equalled by Captain Christy and See More Business, is probably an underestimation of Best Mate's talents and more of a reflection of the way he is campaigned. "I think there is no doubt that he is one of the very best chasers of the post-Arkle era," Geoff Greetham, Timeform's editorial director, said yesterday.

"His performance in the Gold Cup was outstanding. In our opinion it was the best since Master Oats in 1995, and he won on soft ground, which accentuates superiority. It is far more difficult to do what Best Mate did on quicker ground."

The horses at the top of the tree earned their ratings in territory unknown to Best Mate, giving lumps of weight away in handicaps. "Arkle did not run to 212 in winning a Gold Cup," said Greetham, "but he won both a Hennessy and a Whitbread under 12st 7lb, and an Irish National under 12 stone. Best Mate's is a very high rating for a horse who has not done that sort of thing. In a way it is a shame we will never see him try to do it."

With the Festival now in the record books, jumping eyes are on the next of the season's features, the Grand National meeting at Aintree 19 days hence. Tony McCoy, who broke his left collarbone in a fall at Cheltenham on Thursday, aims to be back in the saddle with time to spare. "I'll be out for probably around 10 days," he said yesterday. "I've just got to give it rest."

The on-off saga of whether or not the fancied Irish challenger David's Lad will be able to run in the National is still off. The Tony Martin-trained horse was given a six-week ban after Naas stewards invoked the schooling-in-public rule and appeals and challenges have been bouncing between the Turf Club and High Court in Ireland since. A final decision will be given on Tuesday morning.

Another Grand National of sorts will be contested today with 18 marathon specialists due to line up in the mud at Uttoxeter for the Midlands version. The Irish have a good recent record and useful staying novice Intelligent (2.20) can cap a fine week for the Jessica Harrington stable, successful at Cheltenham with Moscow Flyer and Spirit Leader.

Two-year-olds have been running in Britain since 1769 and Lingfield stages what may well be, in calendar terms, the earliest-ever race for the age-group, in which Western Roots (2.00) can make history. Frankie Dettori flies in for the meeting from Dubai, which is likely to be significant in the case of Parasol (2.10, nap) in the Winter Derby.

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