Racing: Collier may go mining for Gold

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The Independent Online
WHETHER YOU are a human being or a horse these days, it's bad to be old and experienced. The action at the last Cheltenham Festival before the millenium seems sure to imitate the battle of the generations on the other side of the rail if yesterday's declarations are anything to go by. And the young and callow look to have it.

A total of 46 entries were made for the Gold Cup and, of the first six in William Hill's betting, only Dorans Pride has run in the Blue Riband before. Ireland's gangling youth, Florida Pearl, is in there, along with a novice from his homeland, Edward O'Grady's Nick Dundee.

There is also a place for Jenny Pitman's Princeful, who will not jump a fence in public until Thursday, and, perhaps most surprising of all, the name of Collier Bay is among the mass. If Jim Old's gelding should succeed he would become the first horse to accomplish the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double since Dawn Run. The mare, it must be said, is unlikely to have to share her distinction on the evidence before us thus far.

Collier Bay has won just one of his three novice chases this season, and that in the seething cauldron of Newton Abbot. He stands under a bookmaking heading of 100-1 bar. This, of course, is of minor interest to his trainer, who continues to believe his horse can make an impact over the more formidable obstacles. "We are going to run him over further next time but I'm not sure where yet," Old said yesterday. "If we were to put up some sparkling performance over three miles we might be asking ourselves why he wasn't in the Gold Cup.

"And despite what the experts think, we consider that he jumps his fences beautifully. Mr [Wally] Sturt [the owner] is not short of a bob or two so we can make the entry. There's the Cathcart, and the Sun Alliance is an option, but I would prefer the Gold Cup, and he's too slow now for a Champion Hurdle."

The past winners Cool Dawn and Imperial Call are also included, but the Gold Cup, like life, is no friend of the formerly good. L'Escargot, in 1970 and 1971, is the last to win it twice.

Martin Pipe has yet to win it once and swamps the entries this time with nine considerations, including the ex-French Tipstaff, who has yet to compete within these shores. Paul Nicholls is next in the numbers game with four, of which See More Business is team leader. "See More Business will run in the Pillar Chase at Cheltenham but there are no plans for the other three," Nicholls said yesterday. "There is a long way to go until the Gold Cup."

A notable absentee is the Cornish gelding Coome Hill, who has performed recently as if he had just gorged himself on pasties. "He's running a bit of a temperature and I think he has a muscle problem in his shoulder, so we are trying to address that," Walter Dennis, the 10-year-old's trainer, said yesterday. "He's not unsound, but I think it troubles him when he's racing and that's why he's running below par. We will find a race for him, but not at the level of the Gold Cup and I wouldn't rule out the Grand National."

Cyfor Malta and Imperial Call are also declared in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, for which 28 were put forward yesterday. This event too appears a chance for a young horse to earn the spurs, and his exact identity may emerge in Saturday's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot.

Edredon Bleu and Hill Society occupy high station in the betting for both events, though they may not burn each other out at the weekend. The latter is a definite runner and reported in great form by his Irish trainer, Noel Meade, but Edredon Bleu's participation is still in doubt. "It all depends on the weather," Henrietta Knight, his trainer, said yesterday. "If we have rain he will not run but if it stays dry he'll go."

Mick Fitzgerald too will have to stay largely dry if he is to make the weight on the favourite, Get Real. The massive eight-year-old won the Frogmore Handicap Chase over course and distance in December with great ease, but is still out of the handicap on Saturday. That leaves Fitzgerald to pare himself down to 10st, a weight he has not achieved since he started to squirt shaving foam on his face.