Racing: Our Vic takes steady route to Gold Cup

The discussion about which trophy Our Vic, Martin Pipe's most talented young jumper, would definitely be collecting at next week's Cheltenham Festival ended yesterday. The six-year-old will be the recipient of the Royal & SunAlliance Novice Chaser of the Month award for February, given in association with
The Independent, for his performance in Ascot's Reynoldstown Novices' Chase. All we now need to know is where that impressive launchpad is specifically taking him in the Cotswolds next week.

The discussion about which trophy Our Vic, Martin Pipe's most talented young jumper, would definitely be collecting at next week's Cheltenham Festival ended yesterday. The six-year-old will be the recipient of the Royal & SunAlliance Novice Chaser of the Month award for February, given in association with The Independent, for his performance in Ascot's Reynoldstown Novices' Chase. All we now need to know is where that impressive launchpad is specifically taking him in the Cotswolds next week.

Betting patterns before have suggested that Our Vic will run in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Festival, leaving his stablemate Therealbandit to contest the Gold Cup. That arrangement was not challenged yesterday by David Johnson, who owns both young rockets.

"There might be only eight or nine runners in the Gold Cup and it might even be an easier race for a novice in that field than the SunAlliance, with its 20 or so runners and argy-bargy," Johnson said. "Therealbandit is a little more battle-hardened and you could argue that he is more experienced. If you took that to its logical conclusion you could lean towards him going for the premier race."

It is the opinion of Jonathan Lower, the former Pond House jockey and now tutor of young horses at the Somerset yard, that Our Vic should run in the novice event, as he would be the bigger certainty for that race. "Jonathan's a shrewd judge," Johnson added. "He knows the horses as well as Martin does. I'd respect what Jonathan says and I think he's probably right."

For once, Pipe was not persuaded to go in early with Our Vic. He did not even contest the Festival last spring and the signs are that if you want to back him for a Blue Riband it should be the 2005 renewal.

"I asked Martin to take his shoes off and put him away last year," Johnson said. "That shows the high regard we have for the horse. These sort of horses do not come along too often and I wanted to give him every chance to mature and not overrace him. It's no secret that I'd like to think he has the ability to be a Gold Cup winner."

Despite the glitter of his big two, Johnson selects another as his most likely next week, Lord Atterbury in the Foxhunters. "He'd be as close to anything I've got that can win," he said.

There were unusual banker selections from other Festival participants yesterday. Jonjo O'Neill eschewed Intersky Falcon, Rhinestone Cowboy and Keen Leader to put up Lingo, in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, as his best chance .

"He's in great old form," the trainer said. "He'll go there with a live chance - probably the best chance. He has his own ways, but when the gun is put to his head, hopefully he'll do it."

Even with his 52nd birthday approaching, O'Neill has a child-like fascination with the event. "You just want to get there - it's like a kid waiting for Christmas," he said. "If you have a winner at Cheltenham, you've had a great season. Any one of the 21 races will do."

Philip Hobbs reported his Champion Hurdle favourite Rooster Booster full of vim, and food. "He's been grubbing well," the trainer reported, "I said to his owner, Terry Warner, that if he was a selling hurdler he'd be running 20 times a year and enjoying every minute."

The best word, though, came for others at Sandhill stables. "Monkerhostin is in good form for the Coral Cup," Hobbs added. "Made In Japan looks a lively outsider for the Triumph."

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