Racing: Best Mate's pursuit of Gold Cup history ends in blood and tears

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The Independent Online

The prospect of a run into the record books for Best Mate, already a three-times winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, met a bloody end on the Berkshire gallops yesterday morning.

The prospect of a run into the record books for Best Mate, already a three-times winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, met a bloody end on the Berkshire gallops yesterday morning.

Eight days before he was scheduled to attempt to post a fourth consecutive win in National Hunt racing's blue riband - thus taking him past the paper achievements of the legendary Arkle - Best Mate burst a blood vessel during his final piece of serious work before the Cheltenham Festival. He will not run again this season.

"Whenever they break a blood vessel it is serious, but it is not career-threatening and, hopefully, he will come back as good as new next season," Henrietta Knight, who trains the 10-year-old, said yesterday. "It will not have healed in time for the Gold Cup. It is very disappointing."

Best Mate had been boxed up to the West Ilsley gallops of Mick Channon, the former footballer and now successful trainer. The gelding started his routine work at about 9.30am, but his groom and work rider, Jackie Jenner, received worrying signals as the exercise went on.

"She slowed him down because she wasn't happy with him and pulled him to a halt and there was blood coming down the nose," Jim Lewis, Best Mate's owner, said. "The vet has seen him and he said there's absolutely no way he would run, so the dream has come to a temporary end.

"It's very sad and very disappointing for all of us. I have had people coming in here crying their eyes out. You would think it was a disaster. Well, it isn't a disaster, a tsunami is a disaster. I'm really sorry for everybody that lost money, including myself, but we are hopeful that he will be back to normal next year and whoever wins the Gold Cup this year, I shall wish him all the best and remind him that he has only borrowed it."

Best Mate's absence is a considerable blow to a Festival, which, for the first time this season, is being stretched out to a fourth card. The extra day, next Friday, is now to be more notable for the missing horse.

Knight believes yesterday's haemorrhage may be connected to Best Mate's last run at Leopardstown over Christmas, when he was badly beaten. "These things are often caused by a virus and he had picked one up while he was in Ireland and I think it is all linked," she said.

Some of the lifeblood has also been sucked from the Festival, where Best Mate had become the first horse since Arkle in the 1960s to take three Gold Cups. Golden Miller holds the record with five.

The revised betting for the steeplechasing blue riband event, for which Best Mate was once again favourite, sees Robert Alner's Kingscliff heading the market at around 7-2. Then it is 11-2 another British horse, Strong Flow, before a raft of Irish horses appear.

Beef Or Salmon has to come through a final preparation of his own this morning, while Kicking King, an invalid just a week ago, is now back in contention. There will be a Kicking King at the start line at 3.15 a week today, but no old one.

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