Racing: Nicholls overdue the spoils of Power

Our Vic, one of last year's most exciting staying novice chasers and one of the leading prospects for the season among Martin Pipe's powerful team, will not, after all, be strutting his stuff at his trainer's Press inspection session this morning.

Our Vic, one of last year's most exciting staying novice chasers and one of the leading prospects for the season among Martin Pipe's powerful team, will not, after all, be strutting his stuff at his trainer's Press inspection session this morning. Instead, the handsome six-year-old, who had been ante-post favourite for Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham, will be skulking in his box, having suffered a torn muscle in a hind leg.

The injury is not serious, but enough to put Our Vic on the easy list for a few days. Having been thwarted in his tilt at the first major handicap chase of the campaign, for which he was a well-backed 5-2 shot, he will now be aimed at the next, the Tripleprint Gold Cup back at Prestbury Park next month.

Pipe, looking forward to Our Vic's emergence from summer wraps as much as anyone, was disappointed, but phlegmatic. "He worked on Saturday and when our vet looked at him this morning he found a slight muscle tear," the trainer said. "Blood tests confirmed this and, although it is a blow to us, the horse always comes first."

Pipe has won Saturday's Grade Three two-and-a-half miler, traditionally the first hoorah of the season in an assortment of sponsorships, six times, including five of the past eight runnings with classy animals like Challenger Du Luc, Cyfor Malta twice, Lady Cricket and Shooting Light. In Our Vic's absence, he is likely to be double-handed with Celestial Gold, successful in a novices' contest at Cheltenham in April, and more experienced It Takes Time, both of whom, like the absent putative star, carry the colours of David Johnson.

"The Our Vic news is disappointing," said Johnston, "but of course if he is not 100 per cent it would not be fair to run him. Timmy Murphy will probably be on Celestial Gold and Jamie Moore on It takes Time. It is the intention to run both."

Monkerhostin, one of two intended runners from the Philip Hobbs yard, has replaced Our Vic in the sponsor's lists at 7-2. The seven-year-old, winner of the Coral Cup at the Festival, is better handicapped over fences than hurdles - he beat Vodka Bleu at Stratford last month on his first run over the larger obstacles for nearly two years - and carries a featherweight on Saturday. His stablemate Farmer Jack, a winner at Aintree 17 days ago, is third market choice, the pair split by Thisthatandtother.

Last year's winner, Fondmort, heads the weights among 17 declared to shoot for the £63,800 first prize. The Nick Henderson-trained eight-year-old scored in a tragic renewal of a contest first run in 1960, when Poliantas, runner-up for the second successive year, collapsed and died walking to the unsaddling enclosure.

The race perhaps owes the ill-fated horse's trainer, Paul Nicholls, one. The pick of his duo is Thisthatandtother, another of last year's best first-season brigade. The eight-year-old, winner of the meeting's Grade Two novices' race a year ago, was compromised by sore shins during the latter half of the season but veterinary attention in May has cleared up the discomfort and time has assuaged the memories of it.

Cheltenham's mini-festival, dubbed the Open meeting, contains matters of interest on all three days. On Friday, all eyes will be of the superlative cross-country mare from the Czech Republic, Registana, as she attempts to add the Sporting Index Chase to her back-to-back Velka Pardubikas. On Sunday former hurdles champion Rooster Booster, denied a second title in March only by Hardy Eustace, will attempt to defy top-weight on his return in the Greatwood Hurdle.

On the same card the name of the winner of the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase may well prove infinitely significant in retrospect. Two of the three winners who preceded Thisthatandtother are now the two highest-rated chasers in training, none other than Azertyuiop and Best Mate.

Paddy Power Gold Cup (Cheltenham, Saturday) Paddy Power: 7-2 Monkerhostin, 6-1 Thisthatandtother, 7-1 Farmer Jack, 10-1 Ollie Magern, Tikram, 12-1 Fondmort, 14-1 Kelrev, Le Duc, Take The Stand, 16-1 Colca Canyon, Celestial Gold, Ground Ball, It Takes Time, 20-1 others.

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