Racing: Frenchman's Creek to sink chasing's young pretenders

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The Independent Online

It all seems rather ominous for the opponents to Celestial Gold in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury this afternoon. Martin Pipe's six-year-old seems to have a galaxy of factors in his favour.

It all seems rather ominous for the opponents to Celestial Gold in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury this afternoon. Martin Pipe's six-year-old seems to have a galaxy of factors in his favour.

First off he is the favourite and has the nation's most successful trainer beside his name. Celestial Gold is also to be ridden by Timmy Murphy, who may not have supplanted his Pond House predecessor, Tony McCoy, in numbers this season, but who is certainly the buzz jockey of the moment.

The horse's form is not bad either. Celestial Gold is raised just 6lb for his victory in the prestigious Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham two weeks ago, an exercise which, it seems, was not particularly debilitating.

"He has come out of the race very well, extremely well in fact," David Johnson, the leader in the owners' championship, said yesterday. "We left five entries in the race originally, in order to decide nearer the time which would be the most suitable horse to run, and we decided it was him.

"I think that he has come on a bit since Cheltenham, although he is still inexperienced and this is a tough race. There is always the doubt in your mind that it might have taken a lot out of him, as he won well at Towcester on his debut and ran badly at Newbury afterwards. But I think he will run a big race, he has a nice weight, and, without wanting to sound arrogant, I think he goes there with a favourite's chance."

It is enough for the others to put their saddles in the skip, but one pertinent fact remains. Not since Bright Highway in 1980 has a horse achieved the Prestbury Park and Newbury double, and several have gone to the second leg with similarly glittering qualifications.

Others, therefore, must be afforded at least the skimpiest of consideration. Nil Desperandum, the Irish offering, is second favourite. He has come right after previous abortive preparations. "He was in at Gowran in October, but he got a stone bruise which stopped him," Frances Crowley, his trainer, said. "I then wanted to run him in Down Royal this month for the Champion Chase, but his blood was all wrong. However, he is fit and he can give a good account of himself." Two out of three, though, is bad.

Lord Transcend is another junior on the way up, but he too has queries against him, not least a lengthy absence from the racecourse. "He has always jumped well - he jumped a six-bar gate when I first got him," Howard Johnson, his trainer, said. "His lack of experience is a worry and I couldn't get him out for a racecourse gallop."

Perhaps then this is a day when the old will beat the bold. Frenchman's Creek (nap 2.40) had been on extended leave before he reappeared at Exeter last Friday and was not given a soothing introduction. He was pitched in against the first and second from the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Best Mate and Sir Rembrandt. He proved then though that the fowl and dust had been scraped effectively from his garaged chassis by Hughie Morrison and that another big race was potentially in him. This should be the one.

Newcastle's delight is the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, in which Intersky Falcon will put to the test the breathing operation he undertook over the summer. There are alternatives among those with a proven bill of health, including Inglis Drever, who emerges from the novice realm in an attempt to establish Champion Hurdle credentials.

The time, the place and the going though appear to have transpired in favour of the Irish challenger, Harchibald (next best 3.00), who can now clutter the Champion market himself.

It is a delightful weekend for racing folk. Baracouda and Crystal D'Ainay crash sabres in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury today and on tomorrow's Fairyhouse card, Total Enjoyment and Solerina will disappoint if they are not heaving in the winners' enclosure.

Finally, there is another version of the great game in Tokyo tomorrow, when Warrsan and Powerscourt are notable European raiders for the Japan Cup. In terms of significance, however, the land of the rising sun might have to give best to the islands of the driving rains.