Inchcailloch revels in his double life

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The Independent Online
If a change is truly as good as a rest, then Inchcailloch must be one of the freshest horses in training. Just two months ago Jeff King's gelding was weaving his way through a big field of handicappers at the headquarters of Flat racing on his way to a brave victory in the Cesarewitch Handicap.

In the few weeks since, he has added three more successes to his CV, but not against soft opposition on the sand at Lingfield or Southwell, or even over a few flights of hurdles. Instead, Inchcailloch has been winning steeplechases, and in Saturday's Betterware Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot, for which he seems likely to start favourite, he has the chance to complete a remarkable across-the-codes big-race double.

Inchcailloch's versatility is already remarkable enough, but his trainer believes that many other horses might be suited to such a double life if only their owners had the imagination to realise it. "I'm lucky to have a very athletic horse," King says, "but I'm also very lucky to train him for a smashing owner who doesn't wrap him up in cotton wool.

"I think a lot of horses could be just as versatile if the people connected with them would allow it, but there's not many around who'll do things for fun rather than for profit. If we kept him to the Flat he might earn more money at the end of 12 months, but the owners like jumping. The fact that he was good enough to have a crack at the Cesarewitch was just a bonus."

With pounds 35,000 in added prizemoney on Saturday, there is little reason for either trainer or owner to get involved in the betting ring, and the fact that his runner heads the ante-post market is of little concern to King. "To be honest, I don't look at either the betting or the media very much.

"I've been in the game a long while and I couldn't care less whether he was the favourite or a 20-1 chance, but I wouldn't be running him if I didn't think he should be there. He's a lovely horse, really amenable, and he could have some more improvement in him. We'll find out a bit more on Saturday."

Since 1 January will be only his eighth official birthday, Inchcailloch could indeed progress still further through the chasing ranks. The highest levels may prove to be beyond him but, if nothing else, he will go into his latest assignment with recent winning form to his name, which is more than can be said for Nahthen Lad, last season's Sun Alliance (Novices') Chase winner, as the major prize of Christmas, the King George VI Chase at Kempton, draws closer.

Following the lead set on Tuesday by Rough Quest, the Grand National winner, Jenny Pitman's chaser dropped down to hurdling company at Bangor yesterday in a desperate attempt to get a race under his girth before Boxing Day. Unlike Rough Quest, however, Nahthen Lad was nowhere to be seen at the serious end of the race and could finish only a distant sixth of seven runners in the Astbury Wren Handicap Hurdle.

Those brave - or reckless - punters who had already taken a price for Kempton, however, will be relieved to know that the King George remains a possible target. "Norman [Williamson] said that he jumped very well and he will come on a lot for the run," Mark Pitman, Jenny's son and assistant, said afterwards.

"We will keep our options open about the King George. If he is bouncing in the morning and does well from then on, there is every chance that he will run at Kempton. If he doesn't, he won't."

William Hill's quote of 16-1 about Nahthen Lad for the Boxing Day meeting with One Man and company was unchanged after yesterday's race, and with doubts still hanging over his participation, any movement between now and Christmas surely can be in only one direction. Rough Quest, however, found plenty of supporters yesterday, and was cut to 4-1 from 5-1 by Hills.

That Rough Quest is now at such cramped odds to beat One Man simply reinforces the fact that - with hindsight, of course - the 5-1 starting price for his hurdles victory at Folkestone two days ago was one of the bets of the year.