The Glow and Absalom's Lady, in the New Year's Day Hurdle, gave Elsworth a short- priced double at Windsor yesterday. These were a frequent occurrence in the seasons when Elsworth was sending out Desert Orchid and Barnbrook Again over jumps and In The Groove and Dead Certain on the Flat, but rare in the leaner recent years. The malaise which descended on the trainer's former yard at Whitsbury was never positively identified, but the move to Whitcombe has reanimated his string.
Gaining reward yesterday for his loyalty in the saddle was Paul Holley, whose growing reputation hit the hard times along with the horses. For a 4-5 favourite, The Glow made Holley's life very difficult in the novice chase, twice making blunders to which many jockeys might have succumbed.
By contrast, Holley's ride on Absalom's Lady, in the colours of Elsworth's landlord, Peter Bolton, was full of confidence. Held up off the pace, Holley sent Absalom's Lady past Highbrook and Leotard between the last two and quickly cruised clear. Again, he did well to stay aboard as the mare dived through the final flight, but by then she could afford a mistake.
'The Tote Gold Trophy (at Newbury) has always appealed as a race we would go for,' Elsworth said. 'Though we'll see what happens as the handicapper is starting to catch on.'
In a poor year, Absalom's Lady may also take her chance in the Champion Hurdle, but is unlikely to win it. A more significant trial yesterday took place at Cheltenham, where Moorcroft Boy trotted away with the ASW Handicap Chase and was immediately quoted at 25-1 (33-1 with Coral) for the Grand National.
He will attract only mug money until the weights are published, and that process was on the mind of David Nicholson, Moorcroft Boy's trainer. 'He couldn't have won any further,' Nicholson said, but many spectators, the handicapper included, might disagree. Whatever his final burden there can be no doubts about Moorcroft Boy's stamina. Four miles and a furlong on Cheltenham's heavy going was every bit as exacting as four and a half at Aintree in the spring.
'The Grand National has always been on my mind for him,' Nicholson said. 'He is a good jumper who stays well and if it comes up testing at Liverpool there will be a lot worse than him.'
Aintree is no longer a target for Indian Tonic, who appeared not to stay and dropped away after racing prominently. Nigel Twiston-Davies, his trainer, was compensated with a double through Earth Summit and Sweet Duke, winner of the Spa Hurdle. The soft ground was a relief to Sweet Duke, who suffers from arthritic joints but flew the hurdles with enthusiasm.
Too much enthusiasm was the problem for Simon Burrough, who steered Just So into second behind Moorcroft Boy, but left weals on the gelding in the process. He was banned for five days, and the whip rules will remain under scrutiny today when Declan Murphy appeals against the two-day suspension imposed for his ride on Bradbury Star, runner up in the King George VI
Steeplechase on 27 December.
Murphy has said that he lodged the appeal 'for the good of racing', and Nicholson stated confidently yesterday that the rules will soon be changed. The Grand National itself, however, will never rival the thought processes of the Jockey Club stewards for glorious unpredictability.
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