Racing: Straw Bear raises hopes of a new dawn at Findon

At six foot four, Nick Gifford has to look a lot harder than most to satisfy himself that his feet remain planted on the ground, but the process came very naturally at Plumpton yesterday. On a mournful afternoon of low cloud and drizzle, his runner in the novices' handicap hurdle - backed from 6-1 to 7-2 - ran so deplorably that he was summoned before the stewards. At first the jockey thought that the horse had burst a blood vessel, but a scope proved otherwise, and Gifford could only shrug.

The trainer insists that he will not be suffering nosebleeds either, despite a sudden, vertiginous elevation halfway through only his third season as a trainer. Since last Tuesday, when Straw Bear made a stellar debut over hurdles at Leicester, the bookmakers have identified Gifford as the British trainer most likely to win the first race of the 2006 Cheltenham Festival.

"Everyone got wildly overexcited," he protested. "I think it was because nobody could see Acambo getting beaten. But for all we know that horse could have had a problem. Yes, I couldn't be happier with the way he did it, and Tony McCoy was very pleased. But there are horses around who have already won four or five races and somehow he is supposed to be favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Until I see him go and do it again, I certainly won't be getting carried away."

At the same time, Gifford is acutely aware that even such immoderate interest provides oxygen in the claustrophobic profession he embraced on the retirement of his father, Josh - not least because Straw Bear carries the iconic endorsement of J P McManus.

Gifford discovered Straw Bear among the jumping prospects offered by Sir Mark Prescott, already the mentor of Inglis Drever, Arcalis and No Refuge. McManus sent the horse to the Co Limerick finishing school of Enda Bolger, where he was gelded and taught to jump. No matter how far he progresses now, Straw Bear distils the sort of regeneration Gifford craves for the legacy assembled at Findon first by Ryan Price (a terrifying memory from childhood) and then by his father, who once trained over 100 horses there.

"Out of the 38 horses we have now, 15 are four-year-olds yet to run," he said. "In fact, apart from three novice chasers and one handicapper, all the rest are either novice hurdlers or bumper horses. That's how bottom-heavy we are after restocking. It was great to have that foundation from Dad - 90 per cent of the owners stayed and I was able to start off with 30 horses - but it can work both ways. He certainly opened doors, but it can work against you, too, if you don't have the winners. People would soon be telling each other that I wasn't as good as the old man. Hopefully we are going the right way. It would be great to get the stable full again, because in this day and age it is very much a numbers game. But my grounding is very much to be patient."

Having never sampled another training regime - he instead cut his teeth with a small team of hunters at Findon - Gifford feels that the transition has been fairly seamless. "When you're really passionate about something, you don't need to sit down and read a book," he said. "You just pick things up like a magnet."

McCoy, again wearing the McManus silks, won the first race for Jonjo O'Neill at huge odds yesterday. And the chances of the same trio winning the Champion Hurdle with Lingo were later improved when Noel Meade extinguished any lingering hope that Harchibald might make the race.

"I have had a long chat with the vet and although he is very happy with him, we have decided he is not going to run again this season," the trainer said. Harchibald has been in a veterinary hospital since New Year's Day following surgery to remove a piece of birch from his pastern.

The latest Festival favourite to fall prey to a rash of problems is Racing Demon, though he merely has a tooth abscess and will only miss his engagements this week. He is now likely to put his Arkle Trophy credentials on the line at Sandown on 4 February.

* Moscow Flyer was all the rage in the Queen Mother Champion Chase betting yesterday. The dual winner of the race is now 3-1 from 5-1 with totesport.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Dear Villez (Folkestone 1.00)

NB: Presenting Express

(Folkestone 3.30)

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower