Racing: Bad work rules out Hennessy favourite

FOLLOWERS OF the Hennessy Gold Cup favourite, Stormyfairweather, who stayed behind after racing at Kempton last night to watch their hope limber up for Saturday week's Newbury feature, were able to warm themselves on a big bonfire of ante-post betting slips as darkness descended on the Sunbury course. Nicky Henderson's chaser, partnered by Mick Fitzgerald, trailed in about eight lengths behind his stablemates Bacchanal and Fiddling The Facts at the end of the two-mile work-out and will miss the Hennessy for which he had been 7-1 favourite.

Before the workout Henderson had emphasised that this was just a sharpening exercise and not a trial. It did, however, condemn Stormyfairweather to the sidelines on Saturday week.

"It looks I'm not going to get Stormy there," Henderson said. "The race is going to come a fortnight too soon for him." "Mick said he was going to run all over the other two coming into the straight but he was the first one to get tired. At the end of last season he had two hocks drained and that is what put us back by a fortnight."

In contrast, Fiddling The Facts, last year's Hennessy third, who finished upsides Bacchanal, delighted Henderson. "Just like last year before the Hennessy she's worked well and she will go for the race as long as the ground isn't firm," the trainer said.

Ever Blessed, trained by Mark Pitman, put himself on target for the Hennessy after working satisfactorily with his stablemate Canasta in another post- racing Kempton gallop. He is now joint-favourite for the race with Coral at 6-1 alongside Spendid. No Retreat, who had been 16-1 for Newbury, will also miss the race and indeed the whole of the season after sustaining a leg strain.

These prime examples of the pitfalls of ante-post speculation came too late for some punters who, almost inexplicably, yesterday plunged on Florida Pearl for next year's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The reason why some diehards dipped into their pockets on a Wednesday in November for a race run next March seems to be that they were told to by a tipping line - and so they did. The Willie Mullins-trained chaser is now a best-priced 6-1 joint-favourite for the race with Coral, whose spokesman, Simon Clare, said: "We laid Florida Pearl at all rates from 9-1 down to 6-1 during a crazy half-hour this morning before the money dried up.

"A tipping service recommended See More Business this time last year so its followers are playing with bookies money."

Ladbrokes reported that money had come "thick and fast" for Florida Pearl and cut the seven-year-old to 9-2 favourite from 7-1, while the Tote and William Hill are both 9-2 from 10-1 and 8-1 respectively.

Florida Pearl finished third to See More Business and Go Ballistic in this year's renewal of the Gold Cup and made a winning return this term at Down Royal this month.

Ken Bridgwater, who trained the popular hurdler Winnie The Witch, a winner at the Cheltenham Festival in 1991, died suddenly yesterday at the age of 66.

Bridgwater, who was based in Solihull, leaves a widow, Mary Ann, to whom he was married for 41 years, and three sons, Kenneth, Gary and David. The latter, the regular rider of Winnie The Witch, including in that County Hurdle win, and now a trainer in his own right, confirmed the news. "He'd just fed the mares in the field, walked in and that was it."

n Market Rasen is to raise its profile by staging its most valuable race ever next July. The Lincolnshire course will hold the pounds 50,000 Summer Special Handicap Chase on Saturday 22 July. Fleeting Mandate, trained by Paul Webber, won this year's renewal of the two-and-a-half mile contest, beating 13 rivals for a first prize of pounds 20,765.