Missile fails to stop Hill's march to Festival

They both blew in from the westernmost reaches of Britain; they left with Wincanton's Cheltenham trials under their belt and, in the case of Coome Hill, with the real thing, the Gold Cup at the Festival, in his sights.

Coome Hill, who warms up on the beach at Bude when the weather is at its worst, and Dreams End, who was dispatched to the Somerset track from Peter Bowen's yard at Haverfordwest, by the Pembrokeshire coast, came to racing's heartland and strode away with two of the final recognised trials for Cheltenham, which is now less than three weeks away.

Coome Hill, was the one who really impressed, although his winning margin over Unguided Missile in the Jim Ford Chase was only a length and a quarter. Despite the track being too sharp, the going too fast and lacking full fitness after an uncharacteristic fall on his previous start had robbed him of a valuable workout, Coome Hill made the running and galloped his rivals into the ground.

Even though the winner was receiving 6lb from Unguided Missile, who is no more than an outsider for the Gold Cup himself, the bookmakers were sufficiently impressed to cut his odds for chasing's Blue Riband. Coome Hill is now a top-priced 7-1 with Ladbrokes and the race's sponsor, the Tote.

Walter Dennis, who was returning to Bude to "feed the bullocks and see the sheep" left full of hope that his imposing bay can make his mark at the Festival. "He will be better going left-handed around Cheltenham as this tight track would not have suited him," Dennis said.

"I think he will be better for this race as I haven't done a lot with him at home. It was a difficult time after his fall at Sandown as that put a bit of a cloud over things.

Dennis had not expected his charge to dominate the race. "I explained to Jamie [Osborne, his jockey] how I'd like the horse ridden, but out there it was up to him as he knows him so well and knew he'd stay forever."

Osborne reasoned: "We all realised this horse could get beaten if it became a sprint and it made sense to make the running. I was very pleased with him and he's going to be very hard to get to the bottom of. I'm sure the Gold Cup and Grand National distances will suit.

"I went out there hoping Woody [Richard Dunwoody, on Unguided Missile) was going to make it a gallop but going to the first he's just sat there with the handbrake on, so I thought I'd go on."

Whatever he achieves at Cheltenham, yesterday's success makes Coome Hill look rather well handicapped for the Grand National with just 10st 6lb and he was promoted to 10-1 favourite for the race with William Hill and Ladbrokes. Coral offer 12-1. Osborne added: "If he doesn't win the Gold Cup, the Grand National will be a hell of a consolation."

Unguided Missile was not disgraced and will now join his stablemates One Man, Addington Boy and The Grey Monk in the Gold Cup line-up according to Nicky Richards, the son of the quartet's trainer, Gordon

A copper and magnesium deficiency was diagnosed as the reason for Dreams End's poor recent form but he seemed to have found a new, rich seam of form in taking the Champion Hurdle trial, the Kingwell Hurdle. The 16- 1 shot galloped eight lengths clear of Romancer to earn a Cheltenham quote of 40-1 from William Hill.

"He's run well and will take his chance at Cheltenham now, but it's not really his track," a slightly downbeat Bowen said.

Cheltenham Gold Cup (13 March)

Tote: 9-2 Imperial Call, 5-1 Dorans Pride, 11-2 Danoli, 7-1 (from 8-1) Coome Hill, 9-1 Dublin Flyer, One Man, 12-1 Mr Mulligan, The Grey Monk, 14-1 Addington Boy, Cyborgo, 16-1 Nahthen Lad, 20-1 (from 33-1), Unguided Missile, 25-1 Banjo, 33-1 others