Racing: Distant Thunder heralds Chance opportunity

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Considering that he has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, it remains one of life's mysteries why the Lambourn trainer Noel Chance is not sent a greater number of high-quality horses.

Having captured the biggest prize in jump racing with Mr Mulligan in 1997 and Looks Like Trouble in 2000, you would have thought that owners would be beating the doors down at Berkeley House Stables.

Not that Chance is complaining. He has kept up a steady stream of winners and has high hopes that Distant Thunder will be another in one of the jump season's biggest races, the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury tomorrow.

The eight-year-old will be having only his second run since joining Chance in the summer after a 20-race career with the West Country maestro Robert Alner, highlighted by a three lengths defeat of Persian Waters in the 2005 Reynoldstown Chase.

He was expected to make a big impact in his second season over fences last winter, but it just did not happen. Distant Thunder failed to get round in four of his five starts and was beaten a neck by Cruising River at Huntingdon in February on his one completed chase.

"It turned out that he had a wind problem and so he was hobdayed in the summer before coming here in July. It was a very successful operation. He has never made a sound on the gallops since," Chance said.

The proof that the operation to improve his breathing had worked came at Bangor just over a fortnight ago when Distant Thunder made his seasonal debut and ran Bob Bob Bobbin to a couple of lengths with the other runners 30 lengths and more behind.

"We were very pleased with that run and it should have set him up nicely for the Hennessy. He's very well handicapped on his best form and with the rain coming we are very hopeful of a big run," the trainer added.

Distant Thunder still carries the colours of his owner's Old Moss Farm - "the owner is a very private man and does not like publicity" - but Chance reports that there was no falling out with Alner over the move.

"He has sent Robert another horse as a replacement, but he also has The Listener with him so thought there might be a clash of targets.

"I'm delighted to have Distant Thunder. He's a very straightforward horse and easy to train, which suits me and with his favoured soft ground, he should win a few races," he said.

With just 10st 4lb in the Hennessy, Distant Thunder is 4lb better off in that early-entry race than he would have been had Chance opted to go for the Rehearsal Chase, run at Newcastle and also staged tomorrow.

"The handicapper did not have the Bangor race to go on for the Hennessy so we are 4lb light compared to the Rehearsal and will be using this race as a stepping stone to the Welsh National at Christmas. The ground will be horrible at Chepstow and that will suit him just fine," Chance said.

By coincidence, the 2006 winner of the Reynoldstown has also changed stables this summer, is lining up in the Hennessy and will also be well suited by the expected soft ground.

Montgermont, who holds an entry for the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, will be having his first run following the switch to trainer Charles Egerton following the retirement of his previous handler, Lavinia Taylor, who still heads up the partnership that owns the gelding.

Bred in France, like Taylor's 2002 Hennessy winner Gingembre, Montgermont has been well supported in the ante-post market despite not having run since finishing fifth to Star De Mohaison at Aintree in April.

"I couldn't be more happy with him," Egerton said yesterday. "I've been very pleased with his preparation for the race and he's right on schedule.

"The King George entry was purely speculative as it was an early-closing race and you had to be in. He runs off 143 tomorrow so has to improve about 20lb to have a realistic chance at Kempton, but we shall get this over with first."

Montgermont and Distant Thunder were the two big movers in the Hennessy market yesterday with Totesport. Montgermont is now 13-2 from 8-1, while Distant Thunder is 10-1 from 12-1.

The firm's spokesman, Damian Walker, said: "Montgermont has been really well backed even though Tony McCoy seems likely to be claimed to ride Straw Bear at Newcastle. If this level of support continues Montgermont could soon be outright favourite."

HENNESSY GOLD CUP (Newbury, tomorrow). Ladbrokes: 6-1 State Of Play, Turpin Green, 7-1 Montgermont, 8-1 Cornish Rebel, 10-1 Distant Thunder, Idle Talk, Juveigneur, 14-1 Southern Vic, Vodka Bleu, 16-1 Presenting Express, Commercial Flyer, Copsale Lad, 20-1 others.

Totesport: 5-1 Turpin Green, 6-1 State Of Play, 13-2 Montgermont, 8-1 Cornish Rebel, 10-1 Distant Thunder, 11-1 Juveigneur, 12-1 Idle Talk, Southern Vic, Vodka Bleu, 14-1 Commercial Flyer, Presenting Express, 16-1 Ardaghey, Copsale Lad, Neptune Collonges, 20-1 others.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Bussel

(Kempton 3.50)

NB: Freeze The Flame

(Newbury 1.00)