Racing: Business can pick up after winter break

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The Independent Online
THE GOOD news for Britain's trainers over the last couple of weeks has been that Paul Nicholls's horses have been enjoying a midwinter break. The bad news, as announced by a treble at Kempton on Saturday, is that the batteries have been recharged, and they are now ready to pick up where they left off.

But there is one important exception. Nicholls will be hoping that See More Business, the best chaser in his yard, can produce anything but a repeat performance of his last outing when he runs in the Pillar Chase at Cheltenham this weekend. See More Business started favourite at 11- 4 for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, a race he had won a year earlier, but was beaten before the leaders had set out on the final circuit. Teeton Mill, the winner, replaced him at the top of the Gold Cup betting, while See More Business was pushed out to an insulting 14-1.

The reason, if any, for that desperate run is as unclear now as it was then, and the heavy going is all Nicholls can offer. "Often you have a reason either in the preparation or afterwards, but we've seen absolutely nothing," he said yesterday. "They called the ground at Kempton the same as it was the year before, but there was no comparison, it was much softer this year, and in the light of nothing else, that's all we can put it down to. Sometimes you get funny form on that sort of ground, and you'll get a horse that looks exceptional. When you get back to normal ground, the others come back to form."

As Nicholls points out, Simply Dashing, another who ran poorly in the King George, returned a better performance in last Saturday's Peter Marsh Chase, on going described as soft. "See More Business is 14-1 for the Gold Cup because he ran one bad race," the trainer said, "but I don't think he's got any less chance than he had before the King George. If he runs like that again on Saturday, we might have to put our thinking caps on, but I'll be surprised if he does."

The exact quality of the potential opposition on Saturday will not be clear until this morning, since only six entries were received for the Pillar Chase yesterday and the race has been re-opened. Since there is pounds 30,000 on offer, this might seem like a feeble effort by Britain's owners and trainers, but it is only fair to point out that the Peter Marsh, and the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown a week on Saturday, are tempting alternatives.

An altogether more modest race, at Wincanton on Thursday, will see the debut of Nicholls' second possible Gold Cup contender, Double Thriller. He was just another hunter chaser less than a year ago, but then so too was the horse that he beat in a race over the Gold Cup course and distance last April - a grey called Teeton Mill.

That form - Double Thriller won by 12 lengths - was enough to persuade Stephen Winstanley, Teeton Mill's owner, that he should try to add Double Thriller to his string of horses. He failed, but he is not the only punter to appreciate his potential. Double Thriller was 66-1 for the Gold Cup a few weeks ago, but is now half those odds with many bookies.

"If it hadn't been for what Teeton Mill had done after that, you would not even be thinking about the Gold Cup for him," Nicholls said. "But obviously that can't have been bad form, although he's got a lot to prove yet from the handicap point of view. We've been pleased with him at home and he schooled well this morning, and whatever he does on Thursday, he'll improve, but they all do the same sort of work at home, so you can't say whether they're a Gold Cup horse or not. He likes Cheltenham, but the next few weeks will tell us whether we'll be going there for a Gold Cup or a handicap."

Looking further ahead, the list of contenders for the Royal & SunAlliance (Novice) Chase at the Festival was published yesterday, and the name of Martin Pipe cropped up time and again. He supplies 10 of the 88 entries, including Unsinkable Boxer, Potentate and the five-year-old ex-French Majadou, already a winner over fences at Cheltenham, who also features prominently in the betting for the Arkle Challenge Trophy (Novice) Chase.

Lingfield will hold an inspection at 10am today to determine prospects for tomorrow's jumps meeting.

Julio Peromingo, who trains at Maisons-Laffitte, stages a rare French raid on Fontwell today, when he saddles Litchanine for the Selsey Novices' Chase. The six-year-old has been campaigned at Cagnes on the Mediterranean coast and last month was twice a strong-finishing runner-up over fences at around today's distance. Patrice Julien's mount flopped when stepped up in grade 16 days ago and was pulled up.