Hard to believe that some punters could manage to lose their money on a horse that is unbeaten this season, but those who stepped in quickly to back Beef Or Salmon, Ireland's latest steeplechasing starlet, for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at Cheltenham rather than the Gold Cup, look as though they have speculated a step too far. Michael Hourigan, his trainer, announced yesterday that there will be no easy options for his six-year-old novice who, after his win in Saturday's Ericsson Chase, will continue to keep company with the big boys.
"Beef Or Salmon's next run will be the Hennessy here in Ireland and then he'll go straight for the Gold Cup," Hourigan said. "It's been the plan with the horse, provided he turned out to be what I thought he was, which I think he is," he added enigmatically.
Hourigan has no doubts that Beef Or Salmon will handle the Cheltenham fences even though he has had only three races over fences. "I wouldn't be worried about the fences there, they're very inviting and I think he'll jump them much better than the ones he's been jumping here at home," he said.
The Co Limerick trainer believes that Beef Or Salmon could be better than his former stable flagbearer Dorans Pride. "He's a different class of horse to Dorans Pride, who was a good, tough horse but his jumping let him down on and off. This horse has the same gears as Dorans Pride but he jumps much better."
Beef Or Salmon is now 7-1 second favourite, behind Best Mate, with Coral for the Gold Cup, having been 33-1 before his Leopardstown victory.
While the doyen of the weighing room, 56-year-old George Duffield, can bask in his award today of an MBE in the New Year's Honours, his long-time colleague Pat Eddery makes his first visit of the winter to Wolverhampton determined to ride the one winner he needs on the last day of the year to give him a 28th domestic century.
The 11-times champion has mounts in the first six races on a seven-race card at Dunstall Park. He had hoped to chalk up his 28th century in the last 29 years at Lingfield on Saturday but was left on the 99-winner mark after Dunhill Star gave him his only success from six rides. And a ban ruled him out of yesterday's final meeting of the year at the Surrey track.
Some punters, knowing trainers' keenness to give Eddery the vital winner, will be siding with his mounts at Wolverhampton today, but although he has a strong book of rides it could pay to oppose the Irishman in the early events and wait for the 2.50 race in which he partners the much improved Fast Track for Richard Hannon.
Tony McCoy, meanwhile, is a mere 7-4 chance to ride 310 winners or more by the end of the National Hunt season. That is the verdict of the Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, who have produced a set of prices on the number of winners the champion will have before the curtain falls on the season on 27 April.
McCoy beat Sir Gordon Richards's record when amassing 289 winners last term and has raced to his fastest 200 this winter, now standing on 208. Paddy Power quote McCoy at 9-4 to ride no more than 289 winners, 5-1 to total 290-299 and 9-4 to score between 300 and 309. He is likely to add to his tally at Cheltenham today when Barryscourt Lad leads the charge.