Racing: Knight's Best Mate proves punters' friend

Best Mate is as short as 8-1 for the 2002 Cheltenham Gold Cup after a deeply impressive success in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter yesterday. Though he was running over little more than the minimum trip, and racing for the first time since April, Henrietta Knight's chaser made short work of three opponents, including the useful Fadalko, and will clearly be a serious challenger if he makes it to the Festival in March.

Best Mate is as short as 8-1 for the 2002 Cheltenham Gold Cup after a deeply impressive success in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter yesterday. Though he was running over little more than the minimum trip, and racing for the first time since April, Henrietta Knight's chaser made short work of three opponents, including the useful Fadalko, and will clearly be a serious challenger if he makes it to the Festival in March.

Bets of £3,900 to win £2,400 and £1,500 to win £1,000 three times were among those recorded for Best Mate, who started at 8-13, and there was never any danger that the money would stay in the satchels for long. Best Mate quickened into the lead at the eighth fence and was clear with four to jump, beating Desert Mountain by 20 lengths despite being eased down by Jim Culloty on the run-in. Fadalko was 15 lengths further away.

Victor Chandler cut Best Mate to 8-1 clear third-favourite for the Gold Cup, behind only First Gold, on 9-2, and the 7-1 chance Sackville, while Ladbrokes go 10-1 (from 16-1).

Knight has mentioned Best Mate in the same breath as Arkle in the past, and was enthusiastic in her praise for the chaser afterwards. "He's a bit special, a phenomenon," she said. "I don't think I'll have another horse like this in my yard in my lifetime. He's got a great attitude and simply loves it. I suppose that the next stop for him will be the First National Bank Chase at Ascot later this month, but I could well have a jockey problem that day as Edredon Bleu, who is also owned by Jim Lewis, is due to run in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon."

Best Mate has yet to race over further than two and a half miles under Rules, although he won a point-to-point at three miles, but will be stepped up gradually in trip with Cheltenham in mind. It is unclear, though, whether he will contest the King George VI Chase over three miles at Kempton on Boxing Day.

"I'm not particularly keen on the King George but I think the owners might want him to go there," Knight said. "I usually get my way with things like that but we'll have to wait and see."

Right To Reply was trimmed to 20-1 from 33-1 by Coral for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase after his facile success at Warwick yesterday. The seven-year-old is trained by Noel Chance, responsible for a SunAlliance winner in Looks Like Trouble and a runner-up in Mr Mulligan.

CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP: Ladbrokes: 5-1 First Gold, 7-1 Sackville 10-1 Best Mate, Looks Like Trouble, 14-1 Marlborough, 16-1 Ad Hoc, Lord Noelie, Sleeping Night, 20-1 Florida Pearl, See More Business, 25-1 Legal Right, Shotgun Willy, Monsignor, Bacchanal, Commanche Court, Paris Pike, Rince Ri, 33-1 Beau, Japhet, What's Up Boys.

ROYAL & SUNALLIANCE CHASE: Coral: 10-1 Monsignor, Colonel Braxton, 12-1 Direct Access, 14-1 Le Coudray, Mister Banjo, Bounce Back, 16-1 Barton, October Mist, Risk Accessor, Southern Star, Be My Royal, 20-1 Right To Reply, Chives, Gola Cher, It Takes Time, Katarino, 25-1 others.

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