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Racing: Hunt is over for new chasing idol

WHILE the hunting horses were vaulting shrubbery and swerving placards on Boxing Day, one of their former number was himself parading the message for country animals in the big city.

It is a salutary thought that Teeton Mill, the King George VI Chase winner at Kempton, would still be pootling around rural England had he not been a speculative purchase for a tipping company.

Stephen Winstanley, of The Winning Line, laid out pounds 40,000 for the grey, largely due to the horse's record of excellence in the pointing field. Caroline Bailey, his previous trainer, was happy to let Teeton Mill go as the horse's medical book is as thick as a milkman's ledger. "We decided that the offer was good and it was the right time to sell," she says. "Nobody else would have bought him with his legs like that."

Without that transaction, Teeton Mill would still be in livery in Northamptonshire at Spratton ("the farm protected by the ridge"), and handing out horrible beatings to whatever crossed him in the pointing field. "Hunting was his life before he left here and he'd still be doing it if he was still around," Bailey says. "We always liked him, but obviously we didn't realise he was going to be as good as he showed at Kempton. We would probably have run him in the Cheltenham Foxhunters."

This was so nearly the equivalent of Ronaldo playing out his whole career on the Hackney Marshes.

The most startling of Teeton Mill's attributes is his jumping, and it is probably true that it is easier to leap without the Pytchley hounds yapping at your feet and getting in the way. The grey now seems to effect the precision landings of an Indian fakir lowering himself on to a bed of nails, yet in the old days he was a bit of a duffer. There were two falls and an unseated in his first four outings.

"He was very weak as a youngster, but the family do get better with age so we were happy to leave him alone," Bailey says. "We didn't over-race him or risk him on the firm, because we got a warning with his legs, and the rewards of that policy are showing now.

"When he did start, he was unlucky. They were both very unfortunate falls because he slipped on landing." Then, one day, he carried Trevor Marks to victory at Guilsborough and a sequence had begun.

As he progressed, Teeton Mill hunted his way over disused rails, hedgerows and whatever else Mother Nature could construct. He become most proficient. "When he was hunting, he used to come up against all sorts of obstacles and I'm sure that helped his jumping," Bailey says. "Hunting helps to bring your legs up. He was always very neat when he got in close.

"It's a good schooling ground and I think the top hunters like Spartan Missile, Grittar and now this horse have shown the best can hold their own. If you can get to one of the best pointing horses, they are probably in the top 10 to 15 three-mile chasers in the country."

Indeed, for those who think of pointing as little more than sloe gins being passed between the country set then there may have to be a reappraisal. As well as Teeton Mill, this equine division has also produced Cool Dawn, Coome Hill and See More Business in recent years.

It is estimated that between 250 and 300 horses which ran in points last season will run in jumps races under Rules this campaign and the trend seems to be growing.

The Irish point-to-point scene used to be the sport which took place to the humming sound of British owners flicking through a cheque book and a similar noise has been heard on France's racecourses in recent years. It may have been that the purchasers were ignoring comparable produce at their local corner shop. Certainly Teeton Mill's achievements will now raise the stakes for pointers on this island.

"Ours is a competitive game these days and people who think all we are running are slow, old hunters will have to acknowledge that those times have gone," Bailey says. "We have always been offended when owners paid such a lot of money for horses from the Irish point-to-points, but now we are delighted. I hope they all come and buy some more. We may have ruined things for the purchasers but certainly not for the vendors."

Teeton Mill is well on his way to becoming one of the most popular horses ever as he has short-changed no-one. He has made money for his breeder, Janet Hayward, Bailey and Winstanley, as well as the many punters who like his style. It could also be that his story will enrich a whole section of the horse racing sport.