Racing: Double's edge on display: Grand National favourite's odds are cut after a foot-perfect exhibition

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The Independent Online
CHELTENHAM considerations were pushed on to the backburner here yesterday as one of racing's most unlikely teams further stamped their credentials for the Grand National.

Double Silk, trained by a retired 68-year-old and ridden by a dairy farmer, again showed that a racing game which increasingly bows to the chequebook still has floorspace for romance.

The idealists' dream team came together five years ago when Double Silk was bought out of an eventing yard on Salisbury Plain as a five-year- old. 'He was brought up out of a bucket,' Reg Wilkins, the gelding's veteran trainer, recalled yesterday.

Reg Wilkins may sound as though he should live next door to Del Boy in a Peckham high-rise, but he is in fact a diminutive West Country pensioner with a Groucho Marx gait. A hunting enthusiast since the age of 10, he still rides out the best horse he has ever had, apparently unhindered by both age and piloting through drooping, brambled eyebrows.

The Double Silk team is completed by Ron Treloggen, 38, who used to ride for and against Martin Pipe in point- to-points down Bristol way before the champion trainer emerged on to a grander stage. And like Lone Ranger and Silver, this horse and jockey partnership will never be parted. 'If I didn't ride it I don't think the trainer would want the horse to run,' Treloggen said. 'I was with him when we bought the horse and he thinks he's partly mine. 'I know the horse and he knows me. We've got belief and confidence in each other.'

The trainer confirms this. 'Ron mightn't be the prettiest of finishers but he gets them there,' he said yesterday. 'He's ridden him right from the start and he's very good with the horse's jumping.'

The 10-year-old needs little assistance in this department. Double Silk's tutelage in the hunting field means he has faced more demanding ventures than Esher could offer. 'He treats his fences like they're stone walls,' Treloggen said.

As a contest, yesterday's hunter chase lost its appeal when Double Silk's main rival, Radical Views, succumbed at the second fence. After that we were left to savour an exhibition from a horse that has never fallen and wait for Wilkins's word on whether his horse would take in the Gold Cup on the way to Aintree. In fact, the gelding will go for the Foxhunters he won at last year's Festival after a preparatory race at Warwick, though the Gold Cup germ has been planted. 'He might go for it next year,' Wilkins said. 'That is if I'm still going.'

Both Coral and Ladbrokes came in line with the other firms yesterday and made Double Silk an 8-1 favourite for Aintree, though the latter admit he would be half those odds if his partner was not a veteran with expertise limited to Somerset point-to-points.

Treloggen himself dare not think too much about 9 April. 'We're not thinking about the National yet, we're not thinking beyond our dreams.'

One Festival dream was crushed yesterday when Reg Akehurst's Shujan, a Champion Hurdle consideration, was beaten in the opener. Another Champion aspirant, Edimbourg, maintained his winning run but prudence may dictate that he returns here for the Imperial Cup and, if successful, goes for a pounds 50,000 bonus in the County Hurdle.

The pre-Festival scare stories yesterday centred on the Gold Cup, and while David Nicholson had a bellicose response to those who suggested all was not well with Barton Bank, Josh Gifford confirmed that Bradbury Star had met a setback. The gelding's preparation had been stalled by pulled muscles across his quarters.

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