It was a breeze for Edredon Bleu as he signed off for the season at Wincanton yesterday but a chillier gust has got behind another jumping great in Rooster Booster. He is drifting relentlessly in the betting for tomorrow's £125,000 Tote Gold Trophy as punters realise the enormity of the task facing the Champion Hurdle winner in giving weight to 24 rivals in the hardest-fought handicap hurdle of the season.
Instead it is Sporazene who has caught the public's attention and he now heads the market with all the leading firms at 5-1. A possible Champion Hurdle contender himself, he will have to win tomorrow in receipt of 15lb if he is to have any chance of dethroning Rooster Booster at Cheltenham.
Assisting his propulsion to the top of the lists is the fact that his trainer, Paul Nicholls, has helped smooth his path by withdrawing the well-fancied pair Rigmarole and Perouse. They were two of 12 taken out at the final declaration stage yesterday along with Rooster Booster's stablemate In Contrast, Nick Henderson's Dancing Bay and the Irish pair Khetaam and Georges Girl.
That leaves a sole Irish challenger, Risky Reef, who could be one of the few contenders that will be suited by the ever drying ground at the Berkshire course. The seven-year-old, trained by Andrew Lee, made a successful raid on Britain last April when beating the subsequent Swinton Hurdle winner Altay at Aintree. "The ground was good there and he definitely gets home better on the nicer ground," a stable spokesman said yesterday.
Ladbrokes have cut Risky Reef to 12-1 from 16-1, and report strong support for Sporazene. "Of all the Champion Hurdle contenders, Sporazene has been keeping the lowest profile this season," the firm's spokesman, Balthazar Fabricius, said. "He was the top-rated juvenile last season and could be the surprise package come Saturday and on 16 March."
Tom Paddington was another market mover with Ladbrokes, being trimmed to 12-1 from 16-1. "We have laid lots of three-figure bets and one bet of £1,000 at 16-1," Fabricius said.
Edredon Bleu was hardly a betting proposition at 1-5 as he treated his fans to an exhibition round of jumping for a comfortable defeat of Exit Swinger in the Betfair Chase at Wincanton.
The veteran was immaculate at the last five fences, gradually turning the screw on his rival under Jim Culloty to come home a comfortable length and three-quarter winner in what was his final outing in an unblemished campaign.
His next appearance will be at the head of the parade for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham. His trainer, Henrietta Knight, has ruled out any possibility of him running again before the end of the campaign. "There is no point in going to Punchestown because his style of racing isn't suited to those fences, and I feel the Jim Ford Challenge Cup here later in the month is too far for him.
"It's very easy to be greedy, so I shall look forward to next season with him, when the plan is to come here for the Desert Orchid Chase, Exeter for the Haldon Gold Cup and then try for a fifth Peterborough Chase win at Huntingdon. I would think about the King George, but he would run only if the ground was good or good to soft."
TOTE GOLD TROPHY (Newbury, tomorrow). Tote: 5-1 Sporazene, 6-1 Limerick Boy, 13-2 Rooster Booster, 10-1 Hasty Prince, 12-1 Tom Paddington, 14-1 Geos, Risky Reef, 16-1 Self Defense, 18-1 Never, 20-1 Benbyas, Le Duc, Westender, 25-1 Contraband, Monkerhostin, Quazar, Saintsaire, 33-1 Mughas, Sud Bleu, 40-1 Copeland, Latalomne, Man O'Mystery, 50-1 Through The Rye, Visibility, 100-1 Goldbrook, 150-1 Italian Counsel.
NB: Monte Cristo
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