On the turf as elsewhere, it seems that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Success in the Gold Cup is the pinnacle of any racing career for the owner, trainer and jockey, but it may be that the horse is picking up the bill. Not since L'Escargot, in 1970 and 1971, has a chaser won two Gold Cups. In the same period, no fewer than six different horses have won two Champion Hurdles (three in the case of See You Then), while the King George VI Chase has had seven multiple winners. Three miles and a furlong around Prestbury Park in March may take a racehorse to a level of effort which few of us would care to explore.
But if a disappointing seasonal debut by the Gold Cup winner is becoming a pattern, Cool Dawn seemed to be trying to turn it into an art form. His sulky reluctance when denied the chance to lead was bad enough, but before he had even set foot on the racetrack, Cool Dawn threw and then fell on top of his rider, Dido Harding. Little wonder that the Tote pushed out his odds for next year's Gold Cup from 20-1 to 25-1, which was his starting price when he beat Strong Promise at Cheltenham last season.
Robert Alner, Cool Dawn's trainer, was commendably positive when he reflected on the performance yesterday. "I'm not worried about it," Alner said. "He ran a stinking race on his first start last year and look what he went on to do. We turned him out this morning and he is a little stiff but apart from that there is no problem.
"There's a possibility that he was feeling the effects of an injury and he obviously wasn't 100 per cent but I wouldn't be using that as an excuse for his performance. We had a couple of setbacks last year and the Gold Cup is a long way away."
But not so far distant that punters are reluctant to dabble in the market. Earthmover, last year's leading hunter chaser, was cut from 33-1 to 25- 1 by Coral yesterday, and while the sums they laid were undoubtedly small, the Festival's long-range grip on the imagination has clearly started to tighten.
There could be movement at the business end of the market too after the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday, the race which is recent years has become the spiritual starting point of the National Hunt campaign. Escartefigue, beaten only by Florida Pearl in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase in March, and Boss Doyle are among the entries for Saturday's race, and if the ground is not bottomless, both seem likely to run.
"I very much hope he will be a Gold Cup contender," David Nicholson, Escartefigue's trainer, said yesterday. "He will have a similiar campaign to Barton Bank, although he's different to him in that he needs it soft while Barton Bank preferred fast ground. He's a very nice horse and is rated only 2lb behind last year's Gold Cup winner."
And look what's happened to him. It is probably for the best that Escartefigue will never find out.
Nap: Welcome Heights
NB: Miss Penton
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