Old ritual a power of good

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The Independent Online
Cheltenham is a time of rituals and soon will come the moment to pack an extra cheque book for the meeting and look up the name of a mobile stomach pumper in the Gloucestershire Yellow Pages.

Of all the customs that Jim Old observes, the most successful appears to be his perambulation of the Prestbury Park contours the Sunday before the Festival. The Wiltshire trainer took the air at Cheltenham yesterday, just as he had done 12 months ago. On that occasion he was able to welcome back Collier Bay as the winner of the Champion Hurdle 48 hours later.

Old kept with tradition yesterday and was pleasantly relieved that the course seemed suitable for his gelding. "The course is good," he said. "Thank God they've watered." His horse was out at exercise yesterday morning and an interrupted programme seems finally to achieved some normality. "Collier Bay is well and on course for Tuesday," Old reported.

Sanmartino was yesterday confirmed as a challenger for Collier Bay's crown by David Nicholson. The 1995 Ebor winner, who is to be ridden by Richard Dunwoody, is still a novice, but is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles. He runs partly because the yard's Relkeel has been ruled out with injury.

An inquiry about that gelding in the week from a reputable source on a trade paper met with a volcanic response from Nicholson, who said there was nothing wrong with his runner. The splenetic trainer then grandly announced in his weekend column for a rival newspaper that "they need me more than I need them".

Despite his mind-broadening exposure to life at public school, Nicholson seems to have lost sight of the fact that his job of work is to train simple animals to jump, a sort of well-paid keeper of a flea circus. With his huge and talented team, Nicholson should at least get some pleasure out of this week and enjoy the post-race celebrations at Jackdaws Castle.

The story took a further twist later on Saturday when it was announced that Relkeel would not after all run in the Champion as he was reported to have pulled up lame in his hear-hind. "Relkeel has fractured his pelvis," Nicholson said.

There will be few weather forecasters backing The Grey Monk for the Gold Cup over the next few days. Good weather is expected to warm Cleeve Hill if not Gordon Richards's heart this week. By tomorrow the Cumbria trainer's taskforce for Thursday's Blue Riband may be down to One Man, Unguided Missile and Addington Boy.

The condition of the turf at Prestbury Park is described as good, by Old and officialdom alike, though Richards, for one, expects that to change. "I think it will be good to firm by Thursday," he said yesterday. "There is lovely weather coming and if it wasn't nearly that [good to firm], why would they be watering two days before the Festival? I am a bit worried about it for The Grey Monk because he definitely wants cut in the ground. I'll have to weigh things up on Tuesday but I don't race horses to hurt them.''

A decision is also pending on whether Carlito Brigante, Saturday's Imperial Cup winner at Sandown, will attempt to collect a pounds 50,000 bonus in the Festival's final event, the County Hurdle. "He's got one or two little nicks and bruises but other than that he is fine," Paul Webber, the trainer, reported yesterday. "But we won't decide until Wednesday whether he runs.''

Webber described the Esher victory as "a plot", but elsewhere there were schemes that suffered the same fate as those of Guy Fawkes. Martin Pipe had expected to win with the lightly tried Doctoor, but his latest idea is to retrieve those losses with the well-backed As Du Trefle in Wednesday's Mildmay Of Flete.

Pipe confirmed yesterday that his former French combatant Eudipe will appear in the Royal SunAlliance Chase on the same day. William Hill rather fancy his chances as they made the gelding favourite for the race before he was a confirmed runner, despite the knowledge that he held other engagements.

Pipe will be three-handed with White Sea, Pomme Secret and Mutanassib in the Triumph Hurdle, which is where his personal success story began. Pipe was just a former failed jockey, with a limp and no suspicions of the press, when Baron Blakeney charged up the hill in 1981 at odds of 66-1.