Trouble is ready to enter Hall of fame

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The Independent Online

IS THAT an autumn wind blowing the last of the leaves from the trees, or is it the followers of British racing breathing a collective sigh of relief? After a summer spent with the bluebloods who can afford to play on the Flat, the top-class jumpers are back, and with them a feeling that the turf is once more a sport rather than a business.

IS THAT an autumn wind blowing the last of the leaves from the trees, or is it the followers of British racing breathing a collective sigh of relief? After a summer spent with the bluebloods who can afford to play on the Flat, the top-class jumpers are back, and with them a feeling that the turf is once more a sport rather than a business.

Last weekend, it was Istabraq, the dual Champion Hurdle winner, and now See More Business, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, is returning to action. There are few better feelings than preparing to take the first steps on the five-month path to the Festival.

For the last nine years, though, those first steps have proved difficult for the best chaser in training. If See More Business wins the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby today, he will be the first Gold Cup winner to make a winning return the following season since Desert Orchid in 1989. And while there are just five lined up against him, only one could be described as an unlikely winner.

None of them, though, would deserve victory more than Looks Like Trouble, who has an unfortunate habit of winning races but failing to receive the credit he is due. When he won his first chase last season, everyone talked instead about the fall of Princeful, who had won the Stayers' Hurdle a few months before. Then, at the moment of his greatest triumph in the Royal & SunAlliance (Novice) Chase at Cheltenham, most thoughts were with Nick Dundee, the Irish-trained favourite, who had fallen and sustained a crippling injury three out.

Even now, many punters are convinced that Looks Like Trouble was lucky, even though his winning time was exceptional, and there was a long way to go when Nick Dundee came down. It is no surprise, though, to find Noel Chance, Looks Like Trouble's trainer, donning a white wig to mount a strong defence.

"I've seen about 20 horses over the summer on the Flat and over jumps that have cruised to the lead a furlong out and then dropped away to nothing," Chance said yesterday. ''We're talking about a horse cruising at the third-last, which is half a mile out at Cheltenham, and you've got to negotiate that hill as well as the last two fences. I'm not at all sure whether Nick Dundee would have kept going, but I can speak for my horse, and I can guarantee you that he would." Chance already has a plan sketched out for Looks Like Trouble, which after today leads to the King George at Kempton, the Hennessy at Leopardstown and the Gold Cup, which Chance won with Mr Mulligan in 1997. For a 25-horse trainer to have another of similar potential so soon afterwards is, he cheerfully admits, "a miracle".

As for the inevitable comparisons, "Mulligan was a horse with a great cruising speed who could burn the opposition off, whereas you can ride a race on Looks Like Trouble, in that you can sit in behind, sit in handy, or make the running. He probably wouldn't have the same grinding power as Mr Mulligan, but he would have more speed, and at home he works like a Flat horse."

Today's contest is no mere pipe-opener. "He's had a complete preparation," Chance says, "and if he gets beat, it won't be through lack of fitness." The likelihood, though, is that he will not be beaten for lack of talent either, and LOOKS LIKE TROUBLE (nap 2.45) could be the day's soundest investment.

Graham Bradley, another former Gold Cup winner, will bring his long riding career to a close if Senor El Betrutti wins his race later in the afternoon. Bertone (4.25) may keep him waiting for a final success, though, while Galant Moss (3.20) can beat Paddy's Return in the staying hurdle.

There is a valuable jumps card at Ascot too, where Get Real (2.40), second to Call Equiname, the subsequent Champion Chase winner, on his last start, looks well handicapped in the big race, and Eirespray (2.05) should improve for his recent debut at Wetherby.

Those who insist on backing Flat horses until the last possible moment have plenty to choose from on the last day of Newmarket's season. Twenty go to post for the Autumn Handicap, with Indian Blaze (next best 4.05) probably the pick of them, while Mark Johnston saddles two runners as he attempts to win the Zetland Stakes for the fourth time in seven years. High Cheviot (3.05) may be best of the duo.

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