Without the grey at the start of a winter campaign, the sign for the title of most charismatic chaser is turned to vacant. This week, three of the more credible replacements continue their candidacy.
Two of them, Kings Fountain and Remittance Man, will meet tomorrow in a event in which David Elsworth's grey took first the prize and then the race name, the Desert Orchid South Western Pattern Chase at Wincanton.
The third, Katabatic, pulls out on his season this afternoon at Ascot, where he inevitably carries topweight in the United House Construction Chase. Andy Turnell's gelding was in the grip of a virus for much of last season, but still managed to harry Remittance Man in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Their paths look likely to cross again this season.
'He will be entered for the Mackeson (at Cheltenham next month) and further ahead there is the possibility of the King George (Remittance Man's early-season target) as there is no question in my mind about him staying three miles,' Turnell said yesterday. 'I know he's a very good horse.'
But probably not one who will be at his best today, when MOMENT OF TRUTH (nap 3.00) has better credentials. Others to look at are Native Pride (2.25) and Satin Lover (3.30), who can beat some interesting debutants from the Flat including Jackson Flint.
That one's trainer, Harry Thomson Jones, crosses codes for the first time in many seasons and the days when he used to train a horse called Tingle Creek.
This is the time of year when winter colds and the fever of anticipation for jumps races ahead invade the body. It is also the publication date for a book which has had its share of tipping success, Marten Julian's National Hunt Guide.
Now in its 14th year, Julian's tome has had its share of losers too, but these pale in the light of recommendations for Burrough Hill Lad and Forgive 'N Forget, both suggested at 33-1 for the Gold Cup well in advance of their Blue Riband triumphs in the mid-1980s.
Among his catalogue of dark horses for this season, Julian has a leading triumvirate. These are Travelling Wrong (trained David Nicholson), who is by the leading jumps stallion Strong Gale and was unbeaten in four point-to- points in Ireland last year, Sage Warbler (Oliver Sherwood), a five-year-old roan mare who was third in a bumper last year and is the best in that sphere from her yard, and Admirals Seat (Lynda Ramsden), a winner on the Flat at Haydock who has always looked a jumper. 'They are three of what I call buzz horses,' Julian says. 'Tingle-down-the-spine horses.'
Richard Holder, who is fighting for his life in Bristol's Southmead Hospital following a brain operation, has had his training licence transferred to his son-in-law, Pat Murphy. Sir Joey, the last horse to run in Holder's name for the time being, won at Chepstow yesterday.