Henrietta Knight's much criticised but thoroughly vindicated policy of keeping the mileage low for her top performers was confirmed yesterday when the trainer outlined plans for Best Mate and Edredon Bleu for the rest of the season. As expected, Best Mate will have his third and final excursion to the racecourse this season for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, but Edredon Bleu will also be on view just once more this term and that will be at Wincanton in February.
Best Mate, an impressive winner of the Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown last Sunday, will be given plenty of time to get over the exertions of both winning in Ireland and staying away from home for the first time since he joined Knight's West Lockinge stable. "Best Mate has been wrapped up in cotton wool and tissue paper until March," Knight said at Cheltenham. "He's in very good form and I hope he'll be back here on the Thursday for Gold Cup day."
Jim Culloty, the gelding's jockey, believes Best Mate is a good thing for the Gold Cup. "Provided he gets there in one piece and conditions are suitable - he does like quicker ground, really - I can't see anything beating him barring himself," he said.
"Of course there's always the danger of a fall or getting brought down, but provided we get there safely and get round in one piece I think he is by far the best horse in training."
Edredon Bleu celebrated his 12th birthday on New Year's Day and is a fine advertisement for Knight's protectionist policy after gaining the biggest success of his 39-race career in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day to maintain a four-race unbeaten run this season. That sequence, which began at Wincanton in October and then took in the unlikely circuits of Exeter and Clonmel before the Kempton victory, will be pursued at the Somerset venue in the K J Pike & Sons Racing In Wessex Chase.
"Edredon Bleu is having a short holiday and maybe one more race in February, then he'll probably have his holidays for the year," Knight said. "He's been a real star."
The weather is giving some lesser equine participants a break, with yesterday's "all-weather" card at Southwell a victim of the elements. Heavy rain made the track unraceable and the clerk of the course, Fergus Cameron, said: "With the recent frosts we have been forced to work the track very deep and we had three-quarters of an inch of rain in a very short period. The track is not quite raceable as it is not totally stable."
Ayr will inspect at 6.30am for today's card because low temperatures are forecast, while at Folkestone further rain would cause problems. Conditions will have to improve for tomorrow's jumps card at Newcastle, featuring the £40,000 Dipper Novices' Chase, to go ahead. The course is frozen and an inspection will be held at noon today.
Nap: Ronnie From Donny
NB: Sandgate Cygnet
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