Racing: Kingscliff added to list of Gold Cup absentees

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The Independent Online

Frailty, thy name is horse. Kingscliff, promoted to favouritism for the Gold Cup after Best Mate's defection six days ago, was himself an 11th-hour withdrawal from Friday's Festival showpiece yesterday after working poorly during the morning.

Frailty, thy name is horse. Kingscliff, promoted to favouritism for the Gold Cup after Best Mate's defection six days ago, was himself an 11th-hour withdrawal from Friday's Festival showpiece yesterday after working poorly during the morning.

Trainer Robert Alner said: "It is a sickener, but the horse's final gallop did not go at all well and we have had no option but to pull him out. Normally, he cruises at home and is a class above his work companion, but he was clearly not himself."

Kingscliff missed the Gold Cup last year because of an injury that kept him off the course until he chased home Kicking King in the King George VI Chase on his sole outing this season. "We got within three weeks last year, within three days this," added Alner.

"But you have to face facts. You have to be spot on for a race, but for the Gold Cup you have to be 110 per cent, and to run at any less than that would not have been fair on the horse, the owner [Arnie Sendell] or the jockey." Andy Thornton, who rode Alner's previous Gold Cup winner Cool Dawn, will now dislodge Mick Fitzgerald from Kingscliff's stablemate Sir Rembrandt, on whom he finished second last year. "We must hope that Sir Rembrandt can go one better," said Alner. "He seems in great form. Fingers crossed he stays that way."

The poisoned chalice of Gold Cup favouritism is now held jointly by Celestial Gold, Strong Flow and Beef Or Salmon, all at 4-1 with both Hills and Ladbrokes, with Kicking King a point longer.

Kingscliff is the latest high-profile ante-post favourite at the meeting to be pulled out. The rot started with Kauto Star (Arkle Trophy), with Lord Of Illusion (Royal & SunAlliance Chase), Ollie Magern (Royal & SunAlliance Chase), Ambobo (Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle), Power Elite (County Hurdle) and Best Mate himself following on.

Their absences are reckoned to have cost punters £1m in bets lost without a run and yesterday there was further grief when Medison, Saturday's Imperial Cup winner at Sandown, failed to make the cut for today's Coral Cup.

There is also a doubt about Grey Abbey, who is fifth in the Gold Cup betting at 8-1, and his trainer, Howard Johnson, will wait until the last minute before deciding whether to let the 11-year-old take his chance.

"I am going to declare him and he will be coming down on Thursday night," Johnson said. "I'll have a look at him when he gets here and then again on Friday morning. If the ground gets any faster I don't think he will run."

* Flat jockey Brett Doyle's forgetfulness has resulted in a three-month ban from the Jockey Club after he failed to provide a urine sample in a random drugs test at Newmarket last June. Doyle, who has been riding in Hong Kong for much of the winter, was informed that when his current licence expires on 17 March, no application for its renewal will be considered until 21 June. Doyle's defence was that having already taken - and passed - a breath test, he had forgotten that he would need to provide an additional urine sample.

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