Racing: Cole calls tune over Pipe and Co: Ken Jones finds a bemused but happy soul thrust into the Cheltenham winners' circle

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The Independent Online
SPARSE you might describe Henry Cole; lean-featured, with a scraggy neck that finds plenty of room in his collar, not a lot of work for the barber beneath a ferreter's cap. Hardly the jolly farmer of legend but friendly enough and amused to be at the centre of attention.

Cole was thrust into the spotlight at Cheltenham on Saturday when his lively mare, Dubacilla, trounced Run for Free and Young Hustler in the Timeform Hall of Fame Chase, casting serious doubts on their Gold Cup pretensions. Even on a day when the second of Richard Dunwoody's four winners was his 1,000th in Britain, Cole attracted plenty of persistent attention.

This was largely due to his obscure status, that of a West Country yeoman with 150 acres whose daily routine is divided between a dairy herd, B & B guests and the four horses he and his wife, Veronica, train under permit. Shades of the Welsh farmer, Sirrell Griffiths, who came out of nowhere in 1990 to win the Gold Cup with the 100-1 shot, Norton's Coin.

There were differences of opinion among the cognoscenti who set out their fancies for Saturday's event, but they were not intruded upon by the Coles' entry, at least not until the leaders began to lose altitude with three to jump. Then it was seen that Dean Gallagher was comfortably in touch on Dubacilla and improving. 'At that point I was begining to feel confident,' said Cole when under interrogation.

With hindsight he would have entered for the Festival's premier event, but felt it was a year too early, so the Ritz Club Trophy Handicap Chase will be next month's target.

It has been suspected all along that the current crop of Gold Cup contenders has less quality than others of the recent past, and Dubacilla proved it by running a fine, honest race. 'She didn't give me an ounce of trouble,' said Gallagher, 'and a lot of the time I was having to hold her back.'

Witnesses who had invested their savings on Dubacilla for what might be termed sentimental reasons watched with satisfaction when, smilingly, Gallagher brought her into the unsaddling enclosure.

It is a particular pleasure of National Hunt racing that trainers of no great repute occasionally can take on and embarrass the big battalions and spread astonishment among the pundits. Did the victory surprise him, Cole was asked in the moist circle while Dubacilla cooled out under a blanket. Cole smiled fondly. 'She's a lovely horse,' he said fondly, 'and the going suited her.'