Second Gold priority in new Business plan

So many horses have run in so many races down the 100 or so years of steeplechasing's rich history that there are very few unique achievements left for the jumpers of today to pursue. The heroes of the past like Golden Miller, Arkle and Red Rum recorded ''firsts'' which no horse alive today can hope to repeat, far less surpass. There is one record, though, which remains a tantalising possibility.

So many horses have run in so many races down the 100 or so years of steeplechasing's rich history that there are very few unique achievements left for the jumpers of today to pursue. The heroes of the past like Golden Miller, Arkle and Red Rum recorded ''firsts'' which no horse alive today can hope to repeat, far less surpass. There is one record, though, which remains a tantalising possibility.

In the 76-year history of the Gold Cup, which begins with the success of Red Splash in 1924, the trophy has been retained several times, but it has never been regained. This statistic may not look promising, but as See More Business begins his campaign at Wetherby on Saturday, you can be sure that Paul Nicholls will see it not as a bad omen, but as a challenge.

The Gold Cup winner of 1999, who finished fourth behind Looks Like Trouble at the Festival back in March, was one of 10 entries yesterday for the Charlie Hall Chase, the race which has managed to replace the oft-renamed Mackeson/Murphy's/whatever-it-is-this-year Gold Cup at Cheltenham as the base camp for the new campaign.

Spendid, Young Kenny, The Last Fling and Bobby Grant are among his potential rivals in the contest over an extended three miles.

There is a bonus of £50,000 on offer if the winner of Saturday's race goes on to lift the Gold Cup next March, and the form is invariably strong. Last year, Looks Like Trouble could finish only third, 10 lengths behind See More Business, but showed enough on that first outing of the season to indicate that there was much better to come.

This year, Looks Like Trouble will begin his campaign at Down Royal in the Ulster Champion Chase on 11 November, a race which is also the first major target for Florida Pearl, but See More Business will still need to produce a good performance if he is to win first time up for the second season running.

''He's been working well, he seems in good order and we're looking forward to Saturday,'' Nicholls said yesterday. ''He's doing the same work this year as he did last year, and Mick [Fitzgerald] schooled him last week and he was very pleased with him.''

Nicholls is philosophical about See More Business's run at the Festival, which was some way below the form of his win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton three months' earlier, a performance which was arguably the finest by any chaser all year. ''That was probably the only time in his last six runs that he wasn't at his very best,'' Nicholls said. ''But you can't have them like that all the time, and the ground was definitely quick enough for him. Everything didn't quite come together for him then, but he still ran with credit, he's won five of his last six and he's in good order now.''

Talk of the new jumps season does, of course, rather overlook the fact that the 00-01 campaign theoretically started immediately after the Whitbread meeting at Sandown back in April. Nicholls, though, takes little interest in summer jumping, and is now ready to unleash an entire yard full of classic National Hunt types.

''We've had one or two runners,'' he said, ''but we like to concentrate on what we do well, which is winter horses. The rain has been a help, in a normal year Shotgun Willy [a winner on Sunday] wouldn't have had a run yet, we'd have had to wait another month, and we've got a lot of nice, young horses who are ready to go.''

Nicholls nominates Ballyhenry, a former point-to-pointer and bumper winner in Ireland, as a dark horse worth following when he makes his British debut within the next two weeks or so, but whatever else may unfold over the course of the next six months, he knows that the trainers' championship, which he so nearly won two years ago, is far beyond his reach. ''I don't set myself targets, there's no point,'' he says, ''and I'm not even thinking about the championship. With this ludicrous situation where the summer jumping counts now, you've got no chance of getting anywhere near Martin [Pipe], he's already got it in the bag.''

The championship may be a foregone conclusion, but according to the latest ante-post betting, See More Business is just a 10-1 chance to become the first chaser to win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham for a second time, having already let it slip. That unique achievement, you suspect, might give Nicholls more pleasure than half a dozen trainers' championships.

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