Racing: 'Whoever wins will feel they won because he was not there'

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The Independent Online

Those who have most to gain from Best Mate's absence from Cheltenham, the bookmakers and the trainers of his Gold Cup rivals, were united yesterday in their sadness that the great horse will be missing from jump racing's biggest occasion.

Those who have most to gain from Best Mate's absence from Cheltenham, the bookmakers and the trainers of his Gold Cup rivals, were united yesterday in their sadness that the great horse will be missing from jump racing's biggest occasion.

Robert Alner, who trains the new favourite for the race, Kingscliff, believes some of the shine has been taken off the race. "Whoever wins this year will always feel that they won because Best Mate wasn't there," the Dorset trainer, who also runs last year's runner-up, Sir Rembrandt, said. "Best Mate is a true champion and now he can't come back to defend his crown.

"I'm gutted for the stable. I can imagine how disappointed they are. You almost feel like it is one of your own horses."

Kingscliff's big-race jockey, Andrew Thornton, echoed those sentiments. "The race is going to be poorer for it," he said.

Paul Nicholls, responsible for the Gold Cup second favourite, Strong Flow, particularly relates to how the Best Mate team are feeling as his Grand National hope Silver Birch was ruled out the Aintree race just last week. "It shows what we are all up against when you've got all these nice horses getting ready for Cheltenham. Anything can happen and one feels for Hen [Knight] and Terry [Biddlecombe]. That's what happened to us with Silver Birch last week. These things do happen and we have to learn to live with it."

For the bookmakers, Balthazar Fabricius of Ladbrokes said: "We estimate that across the industry Best Mate's enforced absence has cost punters £500,000 . It's clearly a bitter pill to swallow but it would have been considerably worse if it had happened on the day."

Damian Walker, of the Tote, said: "This is the worst possible news for punters and jump racefans. A win for Best Mate would have cost the [bookmaking] industry millions, but we still wanted to see him line up to attempt a fourth Gold Cup win.

"This is yet another hammer blow for ante-post punters as it seems every day for the past two weeks one horse or another has been pulled out of a big race."

The news is also a blow to Cheltenham racecourse, whose commercial director, Peter McNeile, said: "It is obviously very disappointing. All the spectators were looking forward to seeing Best Mate run again. But the race is bigger than one horse. You have to look on the bright side and think it's fortunate it's not something ghastly like a broken leg. It underlines what an amazing achievement it has been to get him fit for the event and win it just once, let alone win it three times."

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