Racing: Bowen sets Ballycassidy a Gold Cup test

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The Independent Online

Statistically at least, there is a chance that either the Gold Cup winner or the runner-up may be among the eight entries made yesterday for Saturday's Grade 2 trial at Cheltenham over all bar a furlong of the big-race course. On the 21 occasions when both contests have taken place, the rehearsal has produced the leading player and the understudy five times each.

Statistically at least, there is a chance that either the Gold Cup winner or the runner-up may be among the eight entries made yesterday for Saturday's Grade 2 trial at Cheltenham over all bar a furlong of the big-race course. On the 21 occasions when both contests have taken place, the rehearsal has produced the leading player and the understudy five times each.

But not, however, in the immediate past. Looks Like Trouble, five years ago, was the latest horse to take both, preceded by Master Oats in 1995 and Little Owl back in '81. Between times, See More Business (1999) finished third in the race now known as the Pillar Property Chase and Dawn Run (1986) fourth before going on to the greatest glory. Toby Tobias (1990) and Cavvies Clown (1988) won the first and beat all bar Norton's Coin and Charter Party, respectively, in the second, and Go Ballistic (1999), Barton Bank (1997) and Dubacilla (1995) were runners-up in both.

Six of the eight entries in Saturday's £80,000 contest also hold the Gold Cup nomination. None, not last season's runner-up Sir Rembrandt, Therealbandit, star novice Ollie Magern nor revitalised Grey Abbey is currently at shorter than 25-1 in the ante-post betting. You can currently get 100-1 against Ballycassidy, for whom trainer Peter Bowen has ambitious plans. The nine-year-old has raced only the once this season, having been off games since chasing Stormez home under a huge weight in a three-and-a-half miler at Prestbury Park in November. "He coughed quite a bit after that," said Bowen, "but is fine now and ready for a run. If all goes well on Saturday, he will go on to the Aon Chase [another Gold Cup trial, at Newbury next month] and then the Gold Cup itself."

Ballycassidy has done his connections more than proud since being picked up for just 24,000 guineas, as a reject from Alan King's yard, at auction in May two years ago. Then regarded as merely a fun horse for the summer jumping circuit, he fulfilled that role admirably, but progressed to be something much better with a Grade 2 victory and runner-up spot to Gold Cup fourth favourite Strong Flow in the Grade 1 Feltham Chase on Boxing Day, 2003. In all, he has won seven races and nearly £135,000, a fine testament to Pembrokeshire-based Bowen's adeptness in improving and placing a horse.

The one caveat issued by Bowen ahead of Saturday concerned the underfoot conditions. "I am hoping the ground will not be too soft, as this is a much better horse on good ground." he added. The going in Gloucestershire is currently good, good-to-soft in places, with mild, dry weather forecast.

Twelve months ago Therealbandit, then an aspiring novice, started favourite for the Pillar Property Chase, only to crash out while giving ill-fated Jair du Cochet a race. When he flopped behind Kicking King in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, he was competing over fences away from Cheltenham for the first time and is likely to head the market again on Saturday on his reputation-retrieval mission back at the track where he has won four times.

Grey Abbey has not been seen since beating Sir Rembrandt, himself most recently runner-up in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock, in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October. Ollie Magern, winner of the most recent Feltham, dips his toes into senior Grade 2 company for the first time and the field is completed by Royal Auclair and the two non-Gold Cup entries, Strong Magic and Irish raider Cloudy Bays.

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