Mick Fitzgerald, who has been one of Britain's most stylish and disciplined jockeys ever since he arrived here almost a decade ago, announced yesterday that he will appeal against the six-day ban imposed by the stewards at Cheltenham on Sunday which would rule him out of the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury on 1 December. Should his appeal fail, he would miss the ride on Marlborough, one of the leading contenders for a race which Fitzgerald has yet to win.
Fitzgerald has missed the Hennessy twice before, once as a result of injury, and once due to suspension. The six-day ban, from 27 November to 3 December, was imposed for irresponsible riding of a major nature, after his mount Surprising crossed Telemoss on the run to the home turn in a hurdle race. Telemoss was almost brought down, but went on to finish third behind See You Sometime and Surprising, and was then promoted to second by the stewards.
"We are definitely going to appeal and I'm very hopeful," Fitzgerald said yesterday. "We are looking at re-runs of the race because there might be mitigating circumstances. The Hennessy is a big meeting for us but it's not only that. I feel six days was very harsh, considering my previous disciplinary record. I am hoping for a good hearing, I know Portman Square is fair and I will hope for the best."
Fitzgerald believes that to be guilty of irresponsible riding, a rider must deliberately make a move which shows no regard for other jockeys, and insists that this was not the case on Sunday. However, it is relatively rare for a decision by local stewards to be reversed on appeal, and the odds must be that Marlborough will need a new jockey on Saturday week.
Tony Gillam, the stewards' secretary at Sunday's meeting, pointed out at the time that five days is the minimum for this offence, and the panel added another "because of the seriousness of what happened."
Fitzgerald faces a pleasant dilemma this weekend, when he can ride either Dusk Duel in the First National Gold Cup at Ascot, or Geos in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon. In both races, though, there will be stern opposition from Henrietta Knight's yard, in the form of either Best Mate, at Ascot, or Edredon Bleu, who will be attempting to win the Huntingdon race for the fourth year running.
Entries were re-opened for the Peterborough on Monday after the race attracted just four possible runners, and there are now seven names in the running for the £50,000 contest.
Catfish Keith, Krabloonik and Celibate have been added to the field, although they will probably be racing for place money at best, but the remainder could pose more problems for Edredon Bleu.
Geos, who will be making his debut over British fences but was a winning chaser in France, was top class over timber, while Young Spartacus won the Racing Post Chase last season and Sleeping Night finished second to Sackville in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby last month.
There were no major moves in the ante-post markets yesterday, but the Tote have priced up the Becher Chase, which they sponsor, over the Grand National fences at Aintree on Saturday.
Smarty, who finished a distant second to Red Marauder in the National in April, but did at least succeed where so many failed in completing without mishap, is their 11-2 favourite, ahead of Narrow Water, who is 6-1 with a run. Ardent Scout, second in the race 12 months ago, is on 7-1, one point ahead of Gower-Slave, who won the John Hughes Chase over the big fences at the National meeting.
* A big celebration at the Rose And Portcullis Inn at Butleigh near Glastonbury was being planned yesterday afternoon. Twenty regulars from the pub, who form the Portcullis Racing Syndicate, watched Gumley Gale carry their colours to success in the Pot Black Handicap Hurdle at Newton Abbot.