Racing: Forty-nine prospectors join Gold rush for Cheltenham

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The Independent Online

On a day when the all-weather was knocked out by frost and some punters wished the same fate had befallen the Fontwell card that produced winners at 66-1 and 25-1, a glimmer of light appeared on the horizon as the entries were announced for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The bookmakers quote Best Mate at odds as low as 6-4 for steeplechasing's Blue Riband, but the representatives of 48 other horses – a record entry – believe it is worth paying the entry fee to take him on.

On a day when the all-weather was knocked out by frost and some punters wished the same fate had befallen the Fontwell card that produced winners at 66-1 and 25-1, a glimmer of light appeared on the horizon as the entries were announced for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The bookmakers quote Best Mate at odds as low as 6-4 for steeplechasing's Blue Riband, but the representatives of 48 other horses – a record entry – believe it is worth paying the entry fee to take him on.

As ever, a perusal of the list of entries is instructive. Henrietta Knight, the trainer of Best Mate, has deemed the Welsh National runner-up Chives, Lord Noelie and, more surprisingly, the two-and-a-half miler Foly Pleasant, worthy of taking on their stablemate.

Martin Pipe, as usual, points his scattergun with nine entries, the highest number for any trainer, but among those with four entries is Nick Henderson, who includes Fondmort, favourite for this Saturday's two-mile Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot, as he tries to correct a terrible omission on his record by winning his first Gold Cup.

There are five entries from France: First Gold, familiar to British racegoers as the winner of the 2000 King George VI Chase, and Gailoorn De Mee, Kapatchi, Modulor and ScoutMaster, familiar only to those who tour the racetracks of the French provinces. All four are trained by Yannick Fertillet for the Kent-based Fergus Wilson.

Mark Pitman is also responsible for a couple of unknown quantities – not that the names are unfamiliar, rather that it is impossible to be sure whether they have retained their ability after long injury breaks. Foremost of the pair is Monsignor, impressive winner of the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle on his last outing in March 2000, but yet to start over fences, while Pitman's Goodtime George has not been seen out since falling in a novice chase at Cheltenham over two years ago.

The dual Gold Cup-winning trainer Noel Chance has entered Right To Reply, who landed his only chasing start in a novices' event at Warwick last season, while Jonjo O'Neill has two entries, both novices, in Joss Naylor and Keen Leader. Skippers Cleuch, trained in Scotland by Len Lungo, is another from that category.

Skippers Cleuch is a 66-1 chance with Ladbrokes in Gold Cup betting and those seeking a tilt could take inspiration from the success at those odds from the victory of Marcus William at Fontwell yesterday. Mick Fitzgerald looked assured of victory on the 5-6 favourite, Kyper Disco, but Marcus William rallied strongly under Barry Fenton to score by a short head. Despite the winner's odds, his trainer, Brendan Powell, was not surprised. "It wasn't a shock," he said. "If you go back, he was sixth at Kempton last year in a real good bumper."

* Yesterday's all-weather card at Wolverhampton, today's meetings at Leicester and Sedgefield and tomorrow's Newbury fixture have been abandoned due to frost.

CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP (13 March) Ladbrokes: 6-4 Best Mate, 10-1 Beef Or Salmon, Commanche Court, 12-1 Marlborough, 14-1 Hussard Collonges, 16-1 First Gold, 20-1 Barton, Chives, Rinci Ri, 25-1Bacchanal, Behrajan, Colonel Braxton, Gingembre, Harbour Pilot, Le Coudray, Sackville, See More Business, 33-1 Cyfor Malta, Florida Pearl, Fondmort, It Takes Time, Joss Naylor, Keen Leader, Foxchapel King, Valley Henry, 40-1 Lord Noelie, Shotgun Willy, Truckers Tavern, Whitenzo, 50-1 Bounce Back, Foly Pleasant, Horus, Iznogoud, Monsignor, Shooting Light, Stormez, 66-1 Go Ballistic, Grey Abbey, Right to Reply, Royal Auclair, Royale De Vassey, Skippers Cleuch, 100-1 Katarino, Macs Gildoran, Modulor, You're Agoodun, 150-1 Goodtime George, Kapatchi, Scout Master.

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