Racing: Armed guard on Mill

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BRITAIN'S LEADING Cheltenham Gold Cup hope, Teeton Mill, is be given an armed guard in the build-up to Thursday's race. His trainer, Venetia Williams, is believed to have enlisted the assistance of the SAS in an attempt to ensure that no harm comes to the grey.

Stephen Winstanley of The Winning Line, owners of Teeton Mill, said that Williams had contacted him for his approval of the move. "She said 'would I like an armed guard for Teeton Mill'. I agreed immediately although it will cost me a few hundred pounds a day. There will be two men guarding the stable between now and the Gold Cup."

Williams confirmed: "A 24-hour guard on his stable has been arranged. We've come this far and he is worth looking after. There will be two guards working in tandem.

"We have the SAS on our doorstep at Hereford and it has been arranged through my connections there."

Norman Williamson has ended speculation by committing himself to the ride on Teeton Mill in the Gold Cup. The Irishman has ridden Teeton Mill in all four starts this season but his position in the saddle had appeared uncertain in recent days as reports suggested he would partner the leading novice Nick Dundee.

In a statement yesterday he said: "I confirm that I ride Teeton Mill in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. I think he has an outstanding chance and would not wish to be on any other horse."

Winstanley said: "I know that Norman feels the horse has an outstanding chance, and Teeton Mill has been working really well recently. As far as The Winning Line and Venetia Williams are concerned the race can't come soon enough."

One horse for whom the Festival may have come too soon is Direct Route, former favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Although Direst Route was among 14 horses left in the race at yesterday's declaration stage, his trainer, Howard Johnson is still battling against bad weather which has hindered the gelding's preparation for next Wednesday's contest.

"Things have got worse here," a stable spokesperson said. "Howard is despondent. We've had rain and snow and now we have got fog."

Queen Mother Champion Chase acceptors: Ask Tom (trained: by T Tate), Call Equiname (P Nicholls), Celibate (C Mann), Cumbrian Challenge (T Easterby), Direct Route (J H Johnson), Edelweis Du Moulin (Miss V Williams), Edredon Bleu (Miss H Knight), Green Green Desert (P Nicholls), Hill Society (N Meade, Irl), Kadastrof (R Dickin), Lord Dorcet (A Charlton), Mulligan (D Nicholson), Or Royal (M Pipe), Papillon (T Walsh, Irl).