Racing at Ascot: Captain Dibble at the double

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ENVY doesn't top the list. You can have many thoughts about riding Miinnehoma but if it's at Ascot the last thing you would want is Peter Scudamore's place in the saddle. And yet even after yesterday's defeat by Captain Dibble you can still argue Miinnehoma's case for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

The reason for such contradiction is that it was round Cheltenham's left-handed circuit that Scudamore's ride put up the race of his life in the Sun Alliance Chase last March. Round Ascot's right-handed contours Miinnehoma looked more like a flat- tyred truck than a well-sprung sedan. In short he was a brute of a ride.

No stable overhauls their horses' physical machinery as exactly as the Martin Pipe yard, yet even they have been unable to cure the leftward leaning tendency which disfigures Miinnehoma at full gallop. Whether it is in his back or in his strangely small, squirrel-like head, something lugs this otherwise wonderfully talented nine-year-old to the left as bad as if he had a tyre flat. Within the first mile he was at it again yesterday.

By then the eight runners were down to seven because at the fourth fence Gambling Royal had left his undercarriage down with disastrous effects on Richard Dunwoody above. Scudamore had Miinnehoma in front on the inside but as the field trekked up towards the home turn with another whole circuit to run, the favourite hung so badly leftwards that he was on the outside as they made the bend.

This allowed Kildimo to take command and for a while show the benefit of having Harvey Smith as his schoolmaster, the legend of the show ring even giving his horse a quick spin on Saturday morning. But if Kildimo had the jumps, Miinnehoma still looked to have the engine and by the time the field again faced the long haul back from Swinley Bottom it was to Captain Dibble and perhaps to Romany King that we looked for even greater danger.

The pursuers were a contrast in themselves: Graham Bradley nursing Romany King, who was to fade beneath him in the straight, Carl Llewellyn rowing away like a tidesman on Captain Dibble, a horse of apparently bottomless stamina provided you have got the energy to find it. Captain Dibble joined Miinnehoma on the inside. The favourite was going the better. But the favourite was also going left.

Not just at the fences; even on the flat Miinnehoma was lugging away to the outside. Somehow Scudamore got him round the last turn and as he faced up to the final two fences you wondered if the horse's own ability allied to the unique Martin Pipe conditioning might yet work a miracle. Only a race earlier the stable's Vagog had survived desperate blunders at both the last two flights before coming home clear of the favourite Burgoyne in the Long Walk Hurdle. But Miinnehoma's antics had cost too much and Captain Dibble was just a shade too tough.

In truth they do not come much tougher. Winner of last season's Scottish Grand National, and now aimed at the end of year Welsh National, Captain Dibble is one of those horses who leaves a jockey a lesser man than when he started. 'There's nothing subtle about it,' said Carl Llewellyn as he towelled himself off afterwards, 'you just work as hard as you can, and provided he is alright, he just keeps on giving to you.'

The proviso was a reference to Captain Dibble's poor performance last time when he finished up lame at Newbury. The problem was diagnosed as sore heels and so yesterday's journey saw the offending joints packed with frozen peas for his box journey from his home base in Gloucestershire. Stand by for jokes about 'Captain Birds Eye.'

As for Scudamore, he was in a good mood to be reflective after following Miinnehoma's defeat with a ride of almost sphinx-like stillness on Cyphrate, that once rare commodity, a Martin Pipe runner who is ridden from way off the pace. 'Miinnehoma looked bad,' said Scudamore, 'and obviously he is difficult to ride round here. But if he had gone at all straight he would have won 10 lengths today. Think what they would then be saying about Cheltenham.'

Think indeed. The Gold Cup price will be big on Monday. Watching Miinnehoma will never be a very happy sight but this horse very definitely knows his left leg from his right.