Racing: Coome fortifies Cup field

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The Independent Online
The field for tomorrow's big race takes shape at last and backers of leading contenders for the Hennessy now seem sure to get a run for their money. Greg Wood reports

Concern that the quality of the field for Peter O'Sullevan's last commentary might not do justice to the occasion faded yesterday, when both Suny Bay, the ante-post favourite, and last year's winner Coome Hill were confirmed as runners for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury tomorrow.

Cool Dawn, a lively outsider following a smooth victory last weekend, is a doubtful runner, however.

Charlie Brooks, Suny Bay's trainer, walked the track and declared himself satisfied with the state of the ground, which will have been a considerable relief not just to the clerk of the course, but also to the punters who have backed the grey at odds as short as 5-2.

Suny Bay has been at the top of the betting since his 11-length victory in the Edward Hanmer Chase at Haydock nine days ago, but it seemed that backers might not even get a run for their money when Brooks made some stinging criticisms of Newbury's attitude to jumps racing earlier in the week.

Yesterday, though, he poked a stick into the take-offs and landings and was pleased with the results. "I have had a look and I am happy," he said. "It is good ground and they have had a lot of rain. I have aired some things which needed airing and I think Newbury will now address them."

As for Suny Bay, last year's Grand National runner-up is "fine. He has got quite a lot of weight [11st 8lb] but he has got a decent chance on Saturday."

The chance that Coome Hill would line up tomorrow seemed much more remote only as recently as Wednesday. His seasonal reappearance, when third to Banjo on Murphy's Gold Cup day, was a minor disaster, with the chaser both pulling a muscle and knocking a vertebra, but all now seems to be well, with two recent workouts offering no evidence of any lingering problems.

"Coome Hill worked again this morning and we're reasonably optimistic," Walter Dennis, his trainer, said yesterday. "All other things being equal, he is going to run. He wouldn't be going to Newbury unless I was happy with him and he has now done a couple of good pieces of work. I am never confident and he has got a fair old weight but he's well otherwise."

Dennis has booked Mick Fitzgerald to ride Coome Hill, in the enforced absence of Jamie Osborne, his regular partner. Fitzgerald will sit on the gelding for the first time in the paddock tomorrow afternoon, but Dennis is unpeturbed by his shortage of experience. "That doesn't worry me as he is a very straightforward ride," he said. "Every jockey who has won on him had never schooled him before."

Cool Dawn, who seemed to improve significantly when his owner, amateur rider Di Harding, made way for a senior jockey last weekend, is only "50- 50" to make the race.

"I'll have to talk to the owner, and also the racecourse to find out what the going is likely to be," Robert Alner, the former hunter-chaser's trainer, said yesterday. "They're telling me now that they had 6mm of rain last night and that it's on the soft side of good, and as far as Cool Dawn's concerned, the better the going, the better his chance."

It is fortunate, then, that Cool Dawn is not based in a stable in Ireland. Space Trucker, runner-up in last year's Champion Hurdle and the horse who sent Osborne to the sidelines when falling in a novice chase at Cheltenham two weeks ago, will return to Britain this weekend because Ireland is currently "swimming", according his trainer, Jessica Harrington.

"He needs good ground, and will go to either Haydock or Warwick," Mrs Harrington said yesterday. "I was talking to Jamie this morning and he said the horse had jumped super until he fell. It was just one of those things."