Martin Pipe was unstoppable at the last Cheltenham meeting, sending out seven winners over three days including Shooting Light and Westender to secure the richest prizes. There was no sign of the Pipe bandwagon slowing down on Saturday either, when he had winners at three meetings, but he has not scared off the opposition in the Tripleprint Gold Cup back at Prestbury Park on Saturday. Henrietta Knight, whose Foly Pleasant chased home Shooting Light in the Thomas Pink Gold Cup, is quite prepared to let the pair square up again
Knight's six-year-old ex-French gelding, one of 22 horses who stood their ground for Saturday's race at yesterday's confirmation stage, will reoppose Pipe's charge on 7lb better terms, giving Knight reason to be optimistic. The slight increase in distance – two miles four-and-a-half furlongs on the Old Course compared with the two miles and five furlongs on the New Course for the Thomas Pink – and the possibility of easier ground will all play to her horse's strengths.
"It might be softer than it was last time. There could easily be some drizzle, and that will help our horse. There's an extra furlong or so in this race as well, and it is all good news for us."
Nevertheless, Ladbrokes, who have opened a book on the Tripleprint, make Shooting Light the 4-1 favourite, just ahead of Foly Pleasant, who shares the 5-1 slot with Mick Easterby's Banker Count, who was runner-up to Kingsmark in the Edward Hanmer Chase at Haydock last time.
At 12-1 in the betting stands the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Legal Right, but even with only five days to go before the race it could be argued that the fragile, injury-prone gelding must be at least 5-1 to get to the racecourse in one piece.
Legal Right ran away with this race two years ago, but has made the racecourse on only three occasions since. O'Neill got him ready to run in Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase six weeks ago when he went off the 2-1 favourite but finished only fourth to Sackville.
Other eye-catching contenders include Nicky Henderson's second-season chaser Dusk Duel and Paul Nicholls's Whitenzo.
The most interesting betting proposition at this stage could be Whitenzo, who is quoted at 16-1 by Ladbrokes. He was a progressive novice last season, is still only a five-year-old and had a respectable pipe-opener when beaten less than seven lengths into sixth place in the Ascot handicap won by Lord York last month.
Henderson is hoping Dusk Duel will be able to take his chance but is unable to commit his handily-weighted six-year-old, who ran with credit behind Wahiba Sands and Best Mate on his reappearance at Ascot. "He is going to work tomorrow, and we will make a decision after that," the trainer said.
Jim Culloty, Best Mate's regular partner who broke his arm in a fall at Taunton last month, is more hopeful of returning to the saddle in time to ride the gelding in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. After seeing a specialist yesterday, the Irishman was upbeat about his prospects of being back to take on a field likely to include First Gold and Bacchanal. "I am pretty confident I will be back. The consultant told me I should be riding out by the 20th."
That still leaves Culloty in a race to retain the ride on Knight's chaser who suffered his only defeat over fences last time out when he was giving weight all round in the First National Gold Cup.
Culloty, who has already missed several plum rides for Knight's in-form stable, said: "I have just taken the cast off and the arm is healing nicely. I have another covering on which I can take off when I need to. It is looking quite good."
Friday's card at Cheltenham will see the first running of a handicap over Prestbury Park's unique cross-country course. Among the problems for Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Board's senior National Hunt handicapper, though was that the £20,000 race has attracted a field which includes two French horses, Djeddah, trained by François Doumen, and Malandrin, handled by Guillaume Macaire, and two Czech hopes, Decent Fellow and Sankt Moritz.
"It has been a bit tricky, but great fun," Smith said yesterday. "It's similar to handicapping the Grand National in that it's a one-off. Some of the horses go into the race on their ordinary ratings but others I have handicapped on their cross-country form.
"I have dropped Browjoshy 5lb, from 135 to 130, just for this race and the one I have gone the other way with is Frileux Royal, who ran well over the course last year and is a cross-country horse who does not show the same form over fences. He has gone from 85 to 107."
TRIPLEPRINT GOLD CUP (Cheltenham, Saturday) Ladbrokes: 4-1 Shooting Light, 5-1 Banker Count, Foly Pleasant, 7-1 Dusk Duel, Ilnamar, 9-1 Logician, 12-1 Irbee, Legal Right, 14-1 Young Spartacus, 16-1 Gower-Slave, More Than A Stroll, Whitenzo, 20-1 Lyreen Wonder, Royal Predica, Somemanforoneman, Upgrade, 25-1 Bouchasson, Cadougold, Dark Stranger, Iris Bleu, 33-1 Jolly Green Giant, 40-1 Gulshan.Reuse content