If this is a day fraught with feelings for Henrietta Knight, they will be in the present, not the past. A year ago at Exeter the much-lamented Best Mate collapsed and died and although the fact of her running two horses in the Grade Two contest in which he met his end - Impek, in the same famous claret and blue colours, and rising star Racing Demon - has a certain poignancy, no welling emotion will be involved.
"The public who loved him, the fan club, may feel it," she said yesterday, "but not me. Anyone who works with horses knows these things happen. You can't dwell on them. I'm glad we had him and you remember the good times with pleasure. But at Exeter we'll be looking forward, not back."
Racing Demon will be running for the first time since disappointing as favourite for the Arkle Trophy. But his is the talent that kept minds at West Lockinge focused forward, right from the moment he announced his burgeoning talent in the race immediately after the terrible, fatal one. The six-year-old, having swerved a meeting with Monet's Garden at Carlisle on Sunday, makes his eagerly awaited seasonal debut in the race now known as the William Hill Gold Cup.
Knight admitted that in an ideal world she would not be running both her chasers in the same contest, especially off the top two places in the handicap and over a distance probably too short - two miles and an extended furlong - for both to boot. "There's no other real alternative, the way the programme book is framed," she said. "I was even thinking of a hurdle race for Racing Demon, but I couldn't find one of those either.
"But we've got to start somewhere and we're looking forward to getting them out. They're in good form but will come on for the run."
Knight has won three of the last five runnings of the race, two with Edredon Bleu and before him with Best Mate, who launched his second fencing season in it. Partly due to his own ability and partly because of the waiting vacuum, Racing Demon was rather hyped as the natural successor to the late, great one, but it is a comparison that Knight is keen to play down.
"We'll try to keep that low key, especially on this occasion," she said. "He'll be better over further and though he has won at Exeter and the ground will be OK, a bit softer might have suited us better because it might have slowed the faster, lower weights down a bit."
Impek has the Peterborough Chase, which he won last year, at Huntingdon in 18 days' time, as his next target, and Racing Demon is being aimed at Sandown's Future Stars Chase at the start of December. Last season the son of Old Vic, who today is ridden by Graham Lee for the first time in public, was likened to a hyperactive schoolboy in temperament, but Knight reports that he has matured in mind as well as body. "I think he's growing up," she said.
The spotlight will, because of circumstances, be on the Knight pair, but interest extends well through the rest of the field, which includes Dempsey, brought down early in last year's Champion Chase, and two of last season's smartest novices, Hoo La Baloo and Chilling Place.
Today, the race won last year by Racing Demon marks the fencing debut of one of this term's most exciting recruits, Denman. The six-year-old was beaten over hurdles only once, by Nicanor in the Royal & SunAlliance, last season and trainer Paul Nicholls is another havering over today's distance. "It's probably a trip short of his best," he said, "but he's going nicely, has schooled well and we're looking forward to it."
The 11-strong first wave of European challengers for Saturday's Breeders' Cup arrived safely in Kentucky yesterday, with the five from Ballydoyle, including George Washington, due in today.
Ouija Board, trying to regain the Filly & Mare Turf she won in 2004 and lost so narrowly last year, was first into quarantine at Churchill Downs after a smooth trip to Louisville. Robin Trevor-Jones, the head groom who has as many air miles as the Ed Dunlop-trained mare, reported his charge her usual unfazed traveller.
"Same old story," he said. "Everything has gone great. She was on her own in the van at the head of the convoy and is like the queen waiting to take back her crown. She's drunk up well, exercised in the barn and, all being well, will soon be out on the track.
"I've been on to the course and it's quick, just like when she won the Hong Kong Vase, two Oaks and a Nassau Stakes. It's just perfect for her."
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