Racing: Lady luck smiles on Rebecca

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The Independent Online
SHE shall go to the ball. Lady Rebecca, the mare whose early days make Cinderella's look privileged, booked her place in the field for the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Wednesday week with an effortless victory in the Stakis Casinos Novices' Hurdle at Doncaster yesterday.

Given the testing, gluey conditions underfoot, it was an extraordinary performance by the tiny bay mare. By the final turn she and one rival, Sydney Twothousand, had drawn well clear and it appeared that her rider Norman Williamson's head was on a swivel as he repeatedly checked behind him for nonexistent dangers. A slightly sloppy jump three flights from home briefly checked her momentum, but within a few strides she was back on a even keel.

Going to the last Williamson, whose decision to make the cross-country dash from Warwick (where he also rode a winner) was wholly justified, had only to shake the reins for Lady Rebecca to find another gear and dance clear to win the contest by 16 lengths.

Lady Rebecca, a six-year-old daughter of Rolfe, is trained by Venetia Williams at Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire. The man who filled the role of the handsome prince in her fairytale story is bloodstock agent David Redvers, who five years ago bought her for just 400 guineas in the auction ring across the road from Doncaster racecourse.

She had fallen on hard times when he saw her. "She had been sold the day before, but whoever had bought her had discovered that she was a box- walker [a horse who, through stress or habit, repeatedly paces round its stable] and did not want her. She was sent through the ring again, and this time mine was the only bid.

"She was small - she's only 15.2 hands now - and a bit down-at-heel. But I fell in love with her. She was one of the most athletic yearlings I'd ever clapped eyes on. And now, when she walks, the biggest horses find it hard to keep up with her."

Redvers kept a third of Lady Rebecca, and when her racing days are over she will return to his family's Gloucestershire stud. Meanwhile, she is providing her syndicate of owners - the others include a gamekeeper, a retired builder, a market gardener and a factory worker - with the most enormous fun. Yesterday's victory, her fifth in a row, was her second over hurdles and showed that her jumping technique had markedly improved from her first effort.

"The only worry about Cheltenham is that she is so small that a large field and hurly-burly might not suit her. But she is very handy and is actually a marvellous natural jumper. She had been round the Pony Club hunter trial course here on the farm several times by the time she was three."

Another mare, Potter's Gale is also Cheltenham-bound, heading for the Arkle Trophy (Novices') Chase after an exhibition round of jumping to land the odds in the Pardubice Novices' Chase. The seven-year-old, one of three David Nicholson entries in the two-miler, had unseated Richard Johnson on her previous outing after being baulked by another horse but there were no such problems for Adrian Maguire yesterday as Potter's Gale went to the front at the third fence and hardly touched a twig.

The trainer Henrietta Knight incurred a pounds 1,000 fine for switching the doubly-declared Easthorpe from his first-preference engagement at Newbury to the Mitsubishi Shogun Trophy Handicap Chase at Doncaster, but it proved worthwhile as Jason Titley brought the ten-year-old home 15 lengths clear of Marble Man to claim the pounds 13,485 first prize. It was Easthorpe second win in three weeks after a barren spell of two years.

The Toiseach, trained by James Fanshawe in Newmarket, showed himself a young staying chaser with a future with an all-the-way win in the day's feature, the Pardubicka Grimthorpe Chase. It was the toughest assignment to date for the Vestey family's progressive Phardante seven-year-old, both in terms of opposition and conditions, but he coped admirably with both, crossing the line 14 lengths in front of Random Harvest. He is, however, unlikely to take up his sole Festival entry, the National Hunt Handicap Chase.

At Newbury in-form Andrew Thornton registered a 22-1 treble on Bold Dolphin, Macgeorge and Easy Buck after a four-timer at Kempton the previous Saturday. It brought his score to 69 for the season, easily the best of his career, with plum mounts like French Holly, Cool Dawn and Kadastrof to look forward to at Cheltenham.