Racing: Egerton's Cup runneth over: A young trainer has unearthed racing's bargain of the season. Chris Corrigan reports

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The Independent Online
RUMMAGING around the stalls at Bermondsey market would hardly be the style of Charles Egerton, so it was in the less characterful surroundings of Ascot Sales that this Old Etonian succeeded in finding jump racing's bargain of the season.

Egerton picked up Stirrup Cup for 6,700 guineas at Ascot last June, and since then the nine- year-old bay gelding has not stopped winning, this season's form figures boasting six consecutive firsts for his new trainer, and he now holds tempting engagements at next week's Cheltenham Festival.

'As soon as I laid eyes on Stirrup Cup I loved him,' recalls Egerton, who is in only his second season as a trainer, operating from stables at Chaddleworth, Berkshire.

The problem was that the horse, although a stunning winner of a Sandown bumper race in 1989 before being rated one of the country's top novice hurdlers the following year, soon lost his way. This big, old fashioned type of National Hunt horse sustained a leg injury, was known as a 'worrier' at his former stable, and then a bad fall over steeplechase fences intensified his lack of confidence.

Like an old painting, Stirrup Cup needed careful restoration. Egerton's small yard was the perfect place. 'We knew he had inherent ability, but as a racehorse he'd fallen to bits. His confidence had to be regained and the talent rekindled,' Egerton said.

The horse will never realise the champion status of which he was once thought capable, but his recent climb to high regard in the ranks of handicap chasers has coincided with a rapid rise in Egerton's own reputation.

From 39 runs this season, the 29-year-old trainer has reaped 13 winners and six second places, a remarkable strike-rate. From just five horses last season, there are now 20. As Egerton, formerly a bloodstock agent, always knew, the only way a small yard can attract more owners - and therefore more horses - is to saddle winners. Stirrup Cup is back and things are looking up at Heads Farm.

The Ritz Club Handicap Chase, over three miles and a furlong on the opening day of next week's National Hunt Festival beckons, and if Egerton's pride and joy runs he would be one of the favourites. 'Cheltenham is the Olympics of jump racing but we're not going to run Stirrup Cup there if the ground is not right,' Egerton insists.

The going would need to be on the soft side of good for the Ritz to be considered, but even then the trainer is more inclined to aim at the Midlands National the following Saturday at Uttoxeter. Both races are worth pounds 35,000 but the Ritz looks more difficult.

'Charles is very dedicated and has worked wonders with this horse,' Tony Hill, whose Elite Racing Club now owns Stirrup Cup, said.

The club is backed by Hill's company, Elite Registrations, which deals in cherished registration numbers. The search is on for a plate that says 111111.

(Photograph omitted)