Racing: Confidence grows in Celestial Gold

Little fish are sweet, according to Martin Pipe, but he does not mind the occasional marlin on the line, such as Celestial Gold.

Little fish are sweet, according to Martin Pipe, but he does not mind the occasional marlin on the line, such as Celestial Gold.

The recent Paddy Power Gold Cup winner is favourite for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday, for which 19 runners were declared yesterday. There is a bubbling reservoir of confidence behind the latest handicap climber from Pond House.

Pipe's assault on the Hennessy has so far yielded successes with Strands Of Gold in 1988 and Chatam in 1991. It seems about time to reclaim the shield. "What is amazing is that before the Paddy Power all of his [Celestial Gold's] races were over longer trips - he was second in a four-mile chase at this year's Cheltenham Festival," Chester Barnes, Pipe's assistant, said yesterday. "You would think that the Hennessy trip at Newbury would be right up Celestial Gold's street. He will handle the ground and the trip should be perfect." The champion trainer could also be represented by Betfred Gold Cup victor Puntal and the novice Vodka Bleu, but he has taken out Therealbandit and Stormez. His stormtroops, though, look fairly well equipped.

First Gold heads the weights with 11st 12lb while Royal Auclair, formerly trained by Pipe, is the only horse to stand its ground from the Paul Nicholls stable, who sent out the damaged but repairing Strong Flow to easily win the race 12 months ago. Haverfordwest trainer Peter Bowen is currently treble-handed with Take The Stand, Ballycassidy and Swansea Bay, while Durham handler Howard Johnson has left in the exciting novice Lord Transcend. Other interesting entries include the sole Irish possible Nil Desperandum, trained by Frances Crowley, Nick Gifford's well-backed Joly Bey and Ollie Magern, from Nigel Twiston-Davies.

The French Furze, winner of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle 12 months ago, features among a cast of 12 entered for the Grade One event also on Saturday. Nicky Richards' 10-year-old beat Geos by three-quarters of a length last season, with Intersky Falcon, who was sent off the 1-2 favourite, over two lengths back in third. Both of those rivals could take their chance again, although they face a strong challenge from the some rising stars, including the Howard Johnson-trained Inglis Drever. The five-year-old will be having his first start out of novice company, on what will also be his first try at the minimum distance of two miles.

There was evidence yesterday that racing can be damaging on the wellbeing as much as the pocket when a racegoer was airlifted to hospital from Southwell after being kicked in the face by a horse.

The man was standing by the parade ring before the fourth race at 1.30pm when the incident happened. "He was attended to by the doctors and was then taken by air ambulance to hospital," said assistant clerk of the course David Williams. "The gentleman was standing by the parade ring, on the correct side of the fence, when a horse jumped up and gave an unusual kick that just caught him. For anybody to get kicked in the face is horrible but the doctors were straight on the scene and he was conscious after the incident."

* Tony McCoy, out of action since dislocating his thumb at Folkestone on 15 November, expects to return tomorrow. McCoy has been booked for First Gold in the Hennessy.

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