Racing: Richards aims to restore Monet's fine reputation

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The Independent Online

If reputations are often made too hastily in racing, then the same is also true of the way they are dismantled. In this respect, trainers must greatly envy the apathy of their horses. Nicky Richards would be gratified, certainly, if Monet's Garden could stifle the rather insulting conclusions being drawn from the solitary blemish in his brief career over fences to date.

Tomorrow this brisk and bouncy young steeplechaser, the best in the north, ventures to Ascot for the Commercial First Chase, his first start since he folded tamely behind Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Prior to that, Monet's Garden was listed among the favourites for everything short of the world snooker championship, but he has practically been dropped from polite conversation since. Richards has seen it all before - not least with a horse in the same mould, trained by his late father, Gordon.

"Sometimes those kind of love-hate relationships do seem to develop," he said yesterday. "One Man was often treated very unkindly in his time. One day people would want to build him up as a superstar, the next they would be crabbing him. But by the end of his career he had proved himself one of the great horses. You see it with footballers, too. It happens in all walks of life."

Monet's Garden was dehydrated on his return to Cumbria after the King George and, rather than board down south overnight, will set off for Ascot at daybreak tomorrow.

"He was never really in a good rhythm at Kempton," Richards reflected. "He did not run too well down there over hurdles one day, and maybe it's not his track somehow.

"We've just freshened him up, he was back cantering within a week, and he seems in top condition. The ground will be far from ideal, and Tony Dobbin did wonder whether he might be better off going the other way round, but we'll see."

Ascot is right-handed - like Kempton, and unlike Cheltenham, where Monet's Garden failed only narrowly to give 5lb to Voy Por Ustedes in the Arkle Chase last year. Like Kauto Star, he has stretched his class over a variety of trips and, at two and a half miles, tomorrow's race represents an ideal crossroads with his Festival options in mind. Totesport make Monet's Garden 5-4 favourite, from Thisthatandtother on 4-1.

"I don't think anyone can call him a talking horse," Richards emphasised. "People want to sit down and take a look at his record. He's a high-class horse, as simple as that, and I'm sure he will remind people of that some day - I hope he'll do so on Saturday."

Anyone who watched One Man falter so abruptly on the Cheltenham hill will have found something very familiar in the performance of yet another grey, The Listener, at Leopardstown last Saturday.

In the end, of course, One Man discovered his métier back over two miles. The Listener, in contrast, was taken off his feet behind Voy Por Ustedes and Monet's Garden at that trip last year and Robert Alner, his trainer, has no reservations about his stamina for the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup - a race in which the stable already has a marvellous record.

The Listener jumped magnificently in the Hennessy Gold Cup, and was still gliding clear of Beef Or Salmon on the home turn. He betrayed no hint of fatigue even approaching the last fence, but halfway up the run-in he was legless. It was natural to suspect some physical infirmity, but Alner is emphatic that he discovered nothing amiss.

"He just came to the end of his tether," the Dorset trainer said. "The finish at Leopardstown is stiffer than it might look, and he ran out of petrol.

"Being over there for four days, he missed a good gallop he'd have had at home. But he'll be able to sleep in his own bed for Cheltenham. It'll be a totally different race, but he has won round there and the great thing with him is just to get into a rhythm."

Alner's only proviso for Cheltenham remains easy ground, but there can no longer be any caveats about The Listener's basic eligibility. Certainly, the way he has successively turned the screw on Beef Or Salmon, albeit with contrasting results, will have been viewed with disquiet by the connections of Kauto Star.

"He certainly looks confident enough," Alner said. "He was very relaxed on Saturday, and I actually thought he ran even better than when he won over there after Christmas. Daryl Jacob said he felt better, and he jumped better. It's just that Beef Or Salmon jumped better this time, as well, and he is very much the star attraction round there."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Delightful Cliche

(Fakenham 3.45)

NB: Prime Bere

(Sandown 4.10)