Racing: Heavens hold key to Monk's orders

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The Independent Online
THE GREY area about the greys' participation in Thursday's Cheltenham Gold Cup was further clarified yesterday amid the promise of a huge and competitive field for racing's Blue Riband.

Suny Bay, the Hennessy Gold Cup winner, is estimated to be some way off his peak but is still likely to take his place at Prestbury Park. The condition of The Grey Monk is less promising and, with the ground perhaps drying against him, it seems his chance is diminishing by the hour.

A total of 21 horses were declared yesterday, which means the field for the Gold Cup could well be the most populated since 22 went to post in 1982. Suny Bay was put through a schooling session at Sandown on Saturday and emerged intact, even though his trainer, Charlie Brooks, believes the gelding to be two weeks short of his sharpest fitness.

"There were no disasters and Brad [Graham Bradley] was delighted," Brooks said yesterday. "Suny Bay didn't blow for very long afterwards.

"My gut feeling is that he will be better in two weeks but, on the other hand, he's done everything we've asked and deserves to go to Cheltenham. He's done a lot of work in the last 10 days and taken it well and will probably run.''

Gordon Richards has a rather less pleasant feeling in his stomach as he himself recovers from illness and Greystoke's The Grey Monk makes painfully slow progress. The 10-year-old has recently been sent on tuning gallops to Kelso and Carlisle, but his true ebullience has yet to be uncorked. "The Grey Monk worked this morning but he still didn't give the jump and a kick that I wanted to see," Richards said yesterday. "I'd like to see him bulling and if he was he would take a lot of beating.

"He has had only one run and we would have liked to have given him three. He is in the Grand National, but there is only one Gold Cup and that is where we want to go. I can see the ground getting on the fast side as well. Genuinely good ground would be okay but he would be better on softer.''

More positive sounds have emerged from the camps of the favourites, Dorans Pride, who is now Ireland's only runner in the race, and See More Business. Paul Nicholls's King George VI winner will be attempting to erase the memory of a decade ago, when his trainer was still a jockey and the partner of the badly beaten favourite in Playschool. "It is a difficult job to make comparisons but, though he was favourite, I was never overly excited in 1988," Nicholls said yesterday. "It is a totally different ball game now when you are training. As a rider you turn up, get on and get off again, but now I live every minute.

"See More Business is fine. He schooled on Thursday and did his last piece of work on Friday and we are very happy with him. It is good to soft and soft in places at Cheltenham at the moment and it will probably be good to soft by Thursday. All we want is for the word firm not to appear in the going.''

The bookmakers will not want the word Blowing Wind appearing on their Cheltenham betting slips following the gelding's facile victory in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday. Martin Pipe's runner is now likely to attempt a pounds 50,000 bonus in the closing County Hurdle on Thursday.

Blowing Wind's display did nothing to rubbish the Festival prospects of the horse that thrashed him at Haydock recently, Dato Star. Malcolm Jefferson's gelding is 5-1 second favourite for tomorrow's Champion Hurdle and well fancied by his Malton stable. "Dato Star is in very good shape," the trainer said yesterday. "He is in great order and I couldn't be happier with him. The going will be good to soft and that will suit him.''

The surface, however, is not likely to be kindly for Mary Reveley's Marello. The mare may be switched to the Stayers' Hurdle after the trainer's envoy walks the track this morning.

The drying ground should, though, aid another of the fancied Champion Hurdle horses in I'm Supposin. "Good ground will be okay and I think it will be perfect on the day," Richard Rowe, the six-year-old's trainer, said yesterday. "I'm Supposin is very well indeed and I am very confident. I wouldn't swap him for anything in the race.

"You need to get luck in running, but if he gets that he has got a very, very good chance of winning.''