Racing: Kelleway's Lady to pull her weight in Gold Cup

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For two generations of punters, the Mackeson Gold Cup at Cheltenham marked the spiritual opening of the National Hunt season, and though no- one ever actually bought the product it promoted, it is still sad to find it transformed this afternoon into the Murphy's Gold Cup. Backers who resent this change have two options. The first might be termed the Prince approach: simply refer to the contest at all times as "the race formerly known as the Mackeson". Rather less wordy and infinitely more appealing is option two: drink Beamish.

What it is impossible to do, however, is ignore today's big race, in which only one of the 12 runners - Bavard Dieu - will go to post without at least a small chance of success. For Dublin Flyer, the top weight, a guaranteed place in turf trivia quizzes beckons as the last horse to win the Mackeson and the first to win the Murphy's, and few outcomes would be more popular in the grandstand. For many spectators, his stirring fight- back on the run-in to beat Egypt Mill Prince 12 months ago was a moment which nothing in the remainder of the season could better, and if he jumps with his usual flair today, a second victory is a distinct possibility.

Yet it is difficult to forget how poorly Dublin Flyer ran in the Gold Cup in March, and from a 6lb higher mark than last year, he hardly demands support at around 6-1. Indeed, several of the market leaders are too short to offer value, not least Challenger Du Luc, who may find the ground a little lively and is not the most reliable jumper. Big Matt, meanwhile, could finish only third last year but is 4lb higher in the weights today, and though Addington Boy's form is solid enough, it is worrying that Tony Dobbin, Gordon Richards's stable jockey, prefers to ride The Grey Monk at Ayr.

Since the bookies have been offering odds on today's race for a fortnight, it is not surprising that obvious value bets are a distant memory, but two prices do stand out. Strong Medicine may be 8lb out of the handicap, but he has won his last two races, represents one of Britain's best yards and will run much better than this morning's quotes of 25-1 suggest. But it is the 11-1 about Absalom's Lady (next best 2.55) which really stands out.

Gay Kelleway has captured punters' imaginations as a shrewd and talented trainer on the Flat, but proved that she is just as adept at the winter game when saddling Absalom's Lady to land a gamble in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter this month.

"She won quite well there even though she needed the race," Kelleway said yesterday, "and David [Bridgwater] had to pick her up and carry her home. He's very keen to run, and he thinks she's got a great chance. She needs an enthusiastic rider, she's only as good as the man on top and David really gets the best out of her.

"Her jockey's probably more confident than I am, but then I worry too much, that's always been my problem. The decision to run was the owner's, not mine, but he knows her better than I do and he feels she'll never get this sort of weight [10st 1lb] in a race like this again."

Fast ground at Cheltenham has resulted in a shortage of runners, but the handicap hurdle which precedes the feature event has a field of nine, most of whom hold a chance. Crack On, an easy winner at Sandown seven days ago, and Just Little, whose winning form is more recent still after her victory at the course yesterday, will be popular, but a better choice could be COUNTRY STAR (2.20). Charlie Brooks's runner has progressed almost unnoticed into a very useful hurdler, having run two of his last three races in France, and will be ideally suited by this trip and going.

Financial interests should be kept to a minimum in the remaining races at Cheltenham, though it will pay to watch the novices' hurdle very closely. Green Green Desert, perhaps the most famous faintheart on the Flat last year, won his first outing over hurdles last weekend with such ease that he entered the betting for the Champion Hurdle in March. Even he could not have failed in such a weak field, however, and Herbert Lodge and Kailsah will provide a much sterner test of character.

The Sean Graham Chase at Ayr is worth a trip to the bookies whatever the weather, as Jodami faces The Grey Monk, Morceli and Better Times Ahead.

At Cheltenham tomorrow, the second running of the Sporting Index Chase, over the cross-country course is the main attraction, but the form book is irrelevant and smart punters will simply hope that there is no repeat of the fatality which marred last year's race.