It is a familiar scenario. The car is not behaving, refusing to start first time and making all sorts of odd knocking noises once it does. You take it to the garage and later get the phone call with inevitable news. "Sorry, mate, it seems fine to me. Can't find anything wrong, taken it for a run, it's going a treat."
Translate all that to horses and you have Dempsey. The talented two-mile chaser, on course for Saturday's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot, has failed to complete in two of his three runs this term, ejecting Andrew Tinkler after unsittable blunders at Exeter in October and at Sandown last month. In between, he trailed in fourth of five at Huntingdon, clouting fences en route.
Yet, at home, he is foot-perfect in his practice sessions. "He's always schooled well," said the nine-year-old's frustrated trainer, Carl Llewellyn, yesterday. "He schooled well this week. We've had Yogi Breisner [the jumping guru] down, and he couldn't fault him. He just doesn't make mistakes at home. It would almost be easier if he did, then there would be something to work on. But his technique is faultless. It's just that on the racecourse he seems to lose concentration."
On his last run last season, Dempsey was brought down suddenly and violently by fallen Kauto Star at the third fence in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. "If there is a reason why he seems to lose it in a race, maybe that's it," Llewellyn said. "Maybe it's unnerved him a bit; he's an intelligent horse and he perhaps remembers and it's maybe knocked his confidence."
Andrew Tinkler has partnered Dempsey in his last 10 outings, and scored three times on him. On Saturday, two years to the day since he took over from Timmy Murphy as the regular rider on Tracey Brown's gelding with a novice chase victory at Ludlow, he will hand the reins back to the more experienced Irishman.
"Andrew, Paul Moloney and Timmy have all schooled him, and he goes equally well for all of them," Llewellyn added. "But sometimes a change of jockey can make a difference, and we've asked Timmy to ride. We'll go to Ascot and hope. It's as technical as that."
Since Desert Orchid won the first Victor Chandler Chase 19 years ago, the race has proved the most influential of all the season's valuable handicap chases with a view to results at Cheltenham two months later. The great grey went on to take the Gold Cup, of course, but since then the signage has been more conventional, pointing to the Queen Mother Champion Chase by providing five winners of the two-mile crown and two runners-up.
Only four of Saturday's entries - Dempsey, Oneway, Mr McGoldrick and Irish raider Mansony, the favourite with the sponsors - hold the Champion Chase entry, and none is shorter than 25-1 for the Cheltenham showpiece.
But though Saturday's renewal may not be vintage, the Grade Two race has been something of a throwback, in that it is a handicap that has regularly attracted top-class animals, notwithstanding their having to give weight away. Only three - Desert Orchid, Waterloo Boy three years later and Well Chief - have successfully carried top weight but there have been some cracking performances in defeat under welter burdens. Flagship Uberalles and Azertyuiop went down by a neck and 12 months ago, when the race was transferred to Sandown, Dempsey himself finished two lengths second to Tysou, who will have another go.
Back at Ascot, the ratings decree that Oneway is on top, with 11st 10lb. Mark Rimell's charge has not won for nearly two years but his fortunes seem to be reviving. After a troubled time last season, the 10-year-old has perked up this, finishing third to Kauto Star in the Tingle Creek, then chasing home Champion Chase favourite Voy Por Ustedes at Kempton. "I'm not that worried about the weight," Rimell said, "he's got it for a reason, because he's good. He carries weight every day; he's a big strong horse.
"He was cherry ripe for Kempton but Voy Por Ustedes is a very, very good horse. But I felt it was the track that beat him as much as the other horse, and Ascot will suit him better."
* Tomorrow's meeting at Chepstow has been abandoned because the course is waterlogged.
NB: Blandford Flyer
(Ludlow 3.40)Reuse content