The jockey's prospects of participation appeared to have evaporated at Kempton last Wednesday when he trotted back on the bloodied Suny Bay. The grey's internal haemorrhaging appeared to reduce the Hennessy challenge of the Lambourn trainer Charlie Brooks to just last year's winner, and in that eventuality Couldnt Be Better would be ridden by the Uplands stable jockey, Graham Bradley.
Some sources claim that Suny Bay has not been able to devour a bowl of oats without breaking a blood vessel this autumn, but yesterday Brooks left the seven-year-old among the 16 declarations. "Charlie wouldn't run Suny Bay unless he was 100 per cent happy with him," Gallagher said yesterday. "He is well handicapped and would have a great chance. I know the horse pretty well as I won a couple of novice chases on him.
"Couldnt Be Better looks to have a hard task at the weights but if I could pick one to be on I'd probably side with him as he's a proven horse. But all I can do is wait in the wings and just hope I can ride one of them."
While the soup kitchens will empty for Cheltenham's free-food day today the same cannot be said of the nation's stables. Just 23 runners have been declared for the card and it is to be hoped that the burger buns are not as hard as the Gloucestershire terrain.
Cheltenham has received much criticism from amateur horticulturalists in recent weeks, with claims of poor turf management and suggestions from anyone who has ever tipped a watering can that the track may have to be entirely reseeded. The main problem at Prestbury Park is that an improved drainage system has coincided with a drop in the subterranean water level. To placate the moaners, Philip Arkwright, the clerk of the course, is consulting with a Yorkshire-based company with the grand title of the Sports Turf Research Institute. That should help the sods.
The fields for Cheltenham are so small that they resemble tag-team contests from the Town Hall, but this will not trouble Bruce Miller, who has travelled from America with Serenity Prayer for a leg of the Sport of Kings' Challenge. If the six-year-old wins here he picks up a $50,000 bonus for winning on both sides of the Atlantic, and should he follow up in another phase of the series at Cheltenham's Tripleprint Gold Cup meeting, the sirens will go off and $1m will come pouring out of an illuminated chest.
Miller sets at least one record today when he sends out his son to ride the horse. It is almost certainly the first time a jockey called Chip has ridden within these shores. Chip (a dangerous name on free-food day) is the brother of Blythe, who rode Lonesome Glory to victory over these obstacles for her father four years ago.
"When he ran here Lonesome Glory was a more immature horse with lots of potential," Miller snr said yesterday. "This horse has accomplished more, he has done everything we have asked of him and a little bit more. He has travelled well and we gave him a nice school today but it could be that he will be a little better over the extra half mile of his next race at Cheltenham."
If there is a weakness in the American's armoury it should leave the race to Mandys Mantino (2.45), who embarks on a fencing career after this test.
The two-horse race (the tipster's greatest terror) may go to Hanakham (3.20), the progressive point-to-pointer (but have a saver on Imperial Vintage), while the first televised contest is not so easy. Yorkshire Gale is best fresh, indeed he won on his debut here last season from 13lb out of the handicap, but he may succumb to Grey Smoke (2.10), who was a good second on his Sandown seasonal debut to Saturday's Ascot winner Inchcailloch.
At Huntingdon there are possibilities about Lady High Sheriff (next best 2.25) and MARIUS (nap 3.35) in the support for the big race of the day. The Peterborough Chase was an event of some import last year when Travado operated on empty lungs to withstand the challenge of Martha's Son. The effort hurt both of them. Nicky Henderson's winner was unsuccessful in five subsequent efforts while Martha's Son was consequently sent for repair in the dry dock he still inhabits.
Travado is lame and cannot defend the contest which means that the Tim Forster stable of Martha's Son should collect the prize with its other great figure, Dublin Flyer (3.00). The 10-year-old was skating along in the lead in the Murphy's Gold Cup until his legs reacted as if he had strayed on to a rink on the turn to Cheltenham's third last. Unless that experience has left an indelible mark, his five opponents will not pass him today.Reuse content