See More Business must defy the omens

History offers no favours as the 1999 Gold Cup winner tries to show he is special

There is a veteran racing journalist who likes to tell the story, which he swears is true, of three Irishmen he saw arguing beside the bronze statue of Arkle at Cheltenham on Gold Cup day. The discussion was growing heated, and as voices were raised, the source of the dispute became clear. Far from arguing about Arkle's merits as a steeplechaser, the men were almost coming to blows over the question of whether, had injury not ended his career in 1966, Arkle would have won four, five or six Gold Cups.

There is a veteran racing journalist who likes to tell the story, which he swears is true, of three Irishmen he saw arguing beside the bronze statue of Arkle at Cheltenham on Gold Cup day. The discussion was growing heated, and as voices were raised, the source of the dispute became clear. Far from arguing about Arkle's merits as a steeplechaser, the men were almost coming to blows over the question of whether, had injury not ended his career in 1966, Arkle would have won four, five or six Gold Cups.

There has been no horse before or since like Arkle, although Golden Miller, who won five Gold Cups in a row in the 1930s, might have run him close. Most of today's punters know him only from the black-and-white footage of mid-1960s Festivals which sometimes plugs a gap during televised racing. A good measure of his astonishing talent, though, is the handicap rating of 212 allotted to him by Timeform after the 1966 season. Compare that to the end-of-season ratings of the Gold Cup winners of the last 30 years, and even great chasers like Desert Orchid (187) are almost two stone adrift.

At least two points strike you as you study this list of horses who, one afternoon in March, could claim to be steeplechasing's champion. The first is that some distinctly ordinary horses - Alverton (153), Davy Lad (151) and Master Smudge (150), albeit on the disqualification of Tied Cottage - have won the Gold Cup. The second is that in almost every case, it was just the one afternoon. L'Escargot, in 1971, was the last horse to win two Gold Cups. Indeed, only five horses since - The Dikler, Forgive N'Forget, Charter Party, Desert Orchid and Jodami - have managed to reach even a place the following year.

That is a statistic you will hear many times in the run-up to next Thursday's race, when See More Business will be a warm favourite to finally break the sequence. Still more disturbing for his supporters, though, is this fact: in the 76-year history of the Gold Cup, only five horses have won two or more (Easter Hero and Cottage Rake were the others). By contrast, there have been no fewer than eight multiple winners of the Champion Hurdle in the last 30 years alone.

Given that See More Business was rated a relatively modest 173 by Timeform at the end of last season, there seems no obvious reason why he should succeed where horses like Desert Orchid failed. Just as horses do not know their odds, however, neither do they read Timeform (if they did, some of those labelled rogues and thinkers might sue). And while any number of omens appear to count against See More Business as he attempts to join a very select band of chasers, there are other reasons to think that he has the outstanding chance his current price of 2-1 would suggest.

As far as his rating goes, See More Business has moved well beyond last year's final assessment during the course of the latest season. "He is now on 182," Geoff Greetham, Timeform's editorial director, said yesterday, "which reflects his victory in the King George, which was the best of his career so far. Looking down the historical ratings, there aren't too many up there."

Indeed there are not. Should See More Business retain this rating until the end of the season he will stand alongside Captain Christy, and within a pound or two of Master Oats and Burrough Hill Lad, in Timeform's view the third- and second-best Gold Cup winners of the last 30 years. A convincing victory might even see his rating move further towards the 187 awarded to Desert Orchid at the end of the 1989 season.

Merely by turning up at Cheltenham in excellent form, See More Business will have achieved more than most defending champions. "For all the statistics," Greetham says, "we are not talking about a horse repeating his form of 12 months ago, we're talking about him repeating his current form. This horse is coming for the Gold Cup having already shown this season that he is running to at least as good a rating as he did last year. His King George win was very impressive and we rate that more highly than his win in last year's Gold Cup."

Among recent winners, several horses like Imperial Call, who was pulled up behind Mr Mulligan in 1997, had been in disappointing form prior to their returns to Cheltenham. Jodami, meanwhile, ran to an almost identical level of form in the 1994 Gold Cup as he had shown when winning in 1993. It just so happened that, on the day, The Fellow ran a little bit better.

This, perhaps, is the lesson to be drawn from history as See More Business attempts to carve out a generous slice of it for himself. Statistics do not beat horses - other horses do. See More Business may have improved significantly since last year, when he beat the 66-1 outsider Go Ballistic by a length, and he may produce his best form next Thursday too, but still not win, simply because this year's opponents, including up-and-coming chasers like Gloria Victis and Looks Like Trouble, are much better than the 1999 vintage.

Should he retain his title, however, See More Business will fully deserve to be remembered as one of Cheltenham's finest champions. They may even accord him the ultimate tribute for any Gold Cup winner - and name a bar after him.

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