Racing: Anxious times for Thriller fans

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The Independent Online
FOR PUNTERS who have already cleared out a sock drawer to accommodate their ante-post bets on Double Thriller for the Grand National, the thoughts of Reg Wilkins, the chaser's owner, may come as something of a shock. Wilkins said yesterday that while Double Thriller may well run in both the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and the National, the latter race is one he is "wary of" and will be something of "an afterthought".

You do not need to read too carefully between the lines to realise that his horse is not even a certain runner at Liverpool on 10 April, despite having been laid from 12-1 down to 9-1 since the weights were published earlier this week. "I would certainly like to run Double Thriller in both races, and he'll never be so well-weighted in the National again," Wilkins said, "but it really does depend what happens at Cheltenham. If he had a hard race in the Gold Cup then he might have to miss Aintree, but the decision will be up to Paul Nicholls [his trainer] in the end."

Wilkins, a permit-holder, was personally responsible for a well-fancied runner at Aintree in 1994, when he saddled Double Silk. The horse came down at the 13th, however, and cracked nine ribs, an experience which did little to recommend the race to his trainer.

"In 1994 I entered Double Silk for the Gold Cup but I wanted to aim him at the National and thought it was too much to expect him to run in the Gold Cup as well," Wilkins said. "But the Gold Cup is a special race and we're keen to have a go this time."

He was responsible for Double Thriller too until the end of last season, when his successes included a 12-length beating of Teeton Mill in a hunter chase at Cheltenham. The runner-up has since won the Hennessy Gold Cup and King George VI Chase, while Double Thriller's only outing this season was in a minor handicap at Wincanton, which he won in a canter. Wilkins, though, believes that Teeton Mill will not be the main danger to his horse at the Festival.

"Teeton Mill has improved two stone this year but don't forget that Double Thriller is a year younger," Wilkins said. "We beat Teeton Mill fair and square last year and like many good horses he could be found out by that Cheltenham hill. One Man could never do it in the Gold Cup and Desert Orchid never really liked it, although he did win the Gold Cup."

Though Double Thriller is now stabled with Nicholls, Wilkins can still take pride in having bought the gelding himself, out of a field in Gloucestershire. "I was looking for a horse by the same sire [Dubasoff] as Double Silk, and he quickly caught my eye," he said. "He was a good mover, a real athlete. He cost a four-figure sum, but I thought it was a fair price for a horse of his presence.

Double Thriller will complete his Festival preparation in the Jim Ford Chase at Wincanton in 13 days' time, and while his last victory at the course was recorded on heavy ground, his owner believes that a better surface will pose no problems.

"He's won on all types of going," Wilkins said, "but I think he might be even better on good."

The fine-tuning of other Cheltenham candidates will continue at Newbury and, somewhat improbably, Bangor this afternoon, when jumps racing resumes after a series of blank afternoons. The Stroud Green Hurdle, which opens the card at Newbury, no longer features Katarino, the Triumph Hurdle favourite, but does offer a serious candidate for the same event in Quel Senor. Francois Doumen, the colt's trainer, already has Hors La Loi III, an 8-1 chance for the Triumph, in his stable at Lamorlaye, but strong rumours from France imply that Quel Senor could be even better.

Kurakka, Potentate and Makounji, three of the best two-mile novice chasers in Britain, contest the Aldermaston Novices' Chase on their way to the Arkle Trophy, while at Bangor, two rank outsiders for the Arkle, River Wye and La Brigantine, run in the novices' handicap chase.