Racing: Cheltenham Festival: Man can fulfil boy's daydream: A rehabilitated favourite can please the sentimental and relieve hardened gamblers in the Champion Chase

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The Independent Online
IF THE leading characters can follow the script, the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon will be the defining moment of the Festival. Remittance Man, the former champion, and Mick Fitzgerald, the up-and- coming jockey with his first major chance, provide a potent combination of talent, sentiment and 5-2 favouritism. All they have to do now is win.

The anticipation makes it easy to forget that even Remittance Man's presence is a minor miracle. When he injured a tendon in November 1992, few thought that he would ever fully recover. In his absence, Deep Sensation took the Champion Chase four months later. Though there were encouraging reports from Nick Henderson, Remittance Man's trainer, at the start of this season, hopes of a return began to fade.

Whatever happens to Remittance Man this afternoon, it is a lasting tribute to Henderson's ability that when the horse did reappear, at Kempton last month, it was as if he had never been away. After a series of extravagant jumps he quickened away from Deep Sensation and passed the post three and a half lengths clear. It is hard to believe that the reigning champion will be any closer today.

Travado is a more credible obstacle to Remittance Man. He too is trained by Henderson, but there the similarities end. 'They're totally different in their attitude and make- up,' Fitzgerald, who has ridden work on both, said on Monday. 'Travado's got gears to burn, but what Remittance Man lacks in gears he makes up for in his jumping. He gains lengths and saves enough of his own petrol to keep up the gallop and then quicken off it.'

For Fitzgerald, the ride could prove a vital step towards the top of his profession. 'It hasn't really sunk in yet,' he said. 'Hopefully it won't sink in until afterwards when I'm receiving the trophy. And when I wake up to the fact that I'm riding him, I'll be on a horse that I've idolised for years.

'Some people dream of being Test bowlers, but I've dreamed of being a jockey since I was a child. I used to get butterflies just watching the racing on television as a kid. I'll be getting them on the way to the races, too, but once I get out there it's just me and seven others.' And when they return, it should be just him. REMITTANCE MAN (nap 2.50) can beat Travado and Wonder Man.

The financial success of the meeting for most Irish punters will be decided during the five minutes of the Sun Alliance Hurdle, which opens the card. Should Danoli be defeated, it will be standing room only on the next ferry to Rosslare.

Though Danoli's form places him many lengths ahead of his rivals, his price will not reflect the unpleasant things which can happen when there are 23 other runners to avoid, or the possibility that a less exposed animal will show considerable improvement. Brief Gale (2.15) did just that when stepped up in trip at Wincanton last time, and has a better chance than her odds indicate.

Time For A Run, in the Coral Cup, is another Irish runner who will be well backed, but as much because of the high-rolling reputation of her owner, J P McManus, as any solid form credentials. Not that the form book carries much weight here, since many of the runners have, as they say, been prepared solely with this race in mind. Dance Of Words (3.30) showed a liking for Cheltenham and an astonishing burst of finishing speed when winning here in December and ran well behind Simpson last time.

One Man (next best 4.05), who looked a future Gold Cup winner at Ascot five weeks ago, can win the Sun Alliance Chase. The amateurs in the four-mile National Hunt Chase are best left to get on with it, but Bibendum (5.15) could be worth waiting for in the Mildmay of Flete Chase.