Racing: Kingscliff's owner makes his case for Gold

There seems to be a little confusion down at Locketts Farm, Droop, in Dorset, about which is the Cheltenham Gold Cup horse.

There seems to be a little confusion down at Locketts Farm, Droop, in Dorset, about which is the Cheltenham Gold Cup horse.

Robert Alner, the trainer at the premises near Blandford Forum, does not, for political reasons, want to separate his two star turns. Andrew Thornton, the yard's regular jockey, appears genuinely undecided. It was Sir Rembrandt which carried him to a memorable second place, half a length behind Best Mate in the Blue Riband last March, yet it is the hugely gifted Kingscliff which is shorter in the betting. Decisions, decisions.

One rather partial voice emerged yesterday to trumpet Kingscliff's cause. Arnie Sendell, a 72-year-old retired electrical engineer from North Petherton, believes the big horse is the one to be on. But then Sendell does own him. "They're all dangerous," he said yesterday. "Best Mate will be a completely different proposition on different going at Cheltenham and Beef Or Salmon showed in Ireland what we've known all along. He's a very good horse. But I definitely think I've got a chance, more so than before the Foxhunters, because he'd gone off his food just before that."

The Festival Foxhunters of 2003 was when Kingscliff first jumped victoriously into the racing public's consciousness. Sendell had known him for a long time by then, from the moment his Irish spotter, Martin Cullinane, pointed out a well-proportioned young horse in a field near Athenry in Co Galway.

"Martin's as good a judge as Tom Costello," Sendell says. "You can see them trot by, how they move, but you don't know if they're going to be fast enough to catch the No9 bus. But this one, as well as being big, was as handy as a pony."

Kingscliff's early education came between the flags. "My horses come through the point-to-point field," Sendell says. "They learn more that way than they ever could jumping hurdles. Kingscliff is a perfect example."

The horse which now measures 17.2 hands collected his points at the quaintly named Badbury Rings, Larkhill and Milborne St Andrew. Only Dingley Dell appeared to be missing. However, the Foxhunters success meant he had to climb out of a small pond.

Kingscliff continued his ascent in the deeper waters of handicap company until a bad day at Haydock a year ago. The gelding surrendered his unbeaten record to Artic Jack in the Peter Marsh Chase and was also overtaken by injury. It took until the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day for his career to resume. It was, though, an astonishing renaissance, as Kingscliff split the market leaders, Kicking King and Azertyuiop, on a course which might have been designed to inconvenience him.

"We took him to Kempton knowing he wouldn't win, but we wanted him to get the experience of jumping in a fast-run race. He's never had to go as fast as that," Sendell says. "But you see what he did against two of the fastest horses in Britain and Ireland. The fourth was 25 lengths back. You don't get many three-milers like him. He can cruise all right, but he's also got a turn of foot, a burst of speed.

"He has been to the racecourse only six times and run nine times, if you include point-to-points, so you can't get more novicey than him at this level.

"Sally [Alner, the trainer's wife] rode him the other day and said he could go through the middle of London. He realises now he is a big, strong racehorse. He is exceptionally well, absolutely first class, and, of course, it's all a dream for a working man like me. But even bald old coots are allowed to have a dream."

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