Racing: Record field in pursuit of Gold

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The Independent Online

One record has already been set by tomorrow's 78th Gold Cup. The 24-strong field is the largest ever to contest the chasing Blue Riband, bang on the safety limit and two more than lined up when Silver Buck won in 1982. The only significant withdrawal at final declarations yesterday was Our Vic, rerouted to today's shorter Ryanair Chase. The favourite, Beef Or Salmon, trying to emulate The Dikler and The Fellow by winning at his fourth attempt, heads the four-strong Irish challenge; second market choice Monkerhostin is the perceived best of the British.

Paul Nicholls, heading the domestic trainers' table, fields Cornish Rebel, to be blinkered for the first time, and Royal Auclair; his great rival Martin Pipe relies on Celestial Gold and Iznogoud and third-placed Philip Hobbs has One Knight as well as Monkerhostin.

A decision will be made this morning about Asian Maze's participation in today's World Hurdle. The seven-year-old mare fell at the fourth flight in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle and was kicked by a following horse. "She seems fine, but we haven't decided whether to run again," said Mullins. "She got a kick in the neck and there is some bruising, so we'll see how it goes."

Doubles for Barry Geraghty and Paul Carberry put them level with Ruby Walsh, who scored twice on Tuesday, at the top of the jockeys' leader board for the meeting.

With temperatures set to drop to below freezing in the Cotswolds, vulnerable parts of the course were covered overnight. Dry weather is forecast, prompting the prospect of watering. "I'm optimistic the ground will retain its moisture for two more days," the clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, said, "but if it starts to dry quickly we may water tomorrow night."

l Today's meeting at Hexham has been abandoned.

Hyperion's TV Tips


2.00 DEMI BEAU could give Evan Williams his first Festival winner. The South Wales trainer has coaxed him back to rude health on the beach at Southerndown after the eight-year-old had lost his form at a previous stable. Good ground will suit him in contrast to many of his rivals. Tony McCoy has chosen to partner Reveillez in preference to Garde Champetre but, if David Casey can sort out the latter's jumping, the champion may have got it wrong.

2.35 Sir Oj's stable is bang in form and Paul Carberry's mount was a course and distance winner on good to soft ground in December. He was fortunate that day (fancied rivals fell), and this is best left to IMPEK. Thanks to the race conditions Timmy Murphy's mount enjoys an edge at the weights - compared to a handicap contest - and he would not be aided by the ground continuing to turn livelier than on the opening day.

3.15 Baracouda may follow Moscow Flyer in finding age catching up with him, but it is his idiosyncrasies that could again prove his undoing. MIGHTY MAN, five years his junior, looks ready to top the staying hurdlers' championship this year. Henry Daly's runners have been in blinding form in recent weeks and, although this strong gelding is effective when the mud is flying, today's better ground will help his cause.

4.00 Too Forward can easily be forgiven a poor run at quirky Southwell last time and had earlier spreadeagled the opposition at Newbury. He surely has a major chance of taking this prize, but the vote goes to BILLYVODAN who has a built an excellent strike-rate since switching to fences.