Following the recent announcement by the trainer's son, Mark, that he is to leave Weathercock House and establish his own yard, came yesterday's confirmation that Warren Marston, Pitman's stable jockey, is also on his way. Desmond Lynam may be on his own outside the church entrance.
La Pitman has passed her half century and, at one stage, intimated she may soon be retiring, but after a recent pronouncement that the lady would not, in fact, be for turning in her licence, her son soon had his suitcase clicking open. The precise reason for Marston's departure has yet to be explained, though relationships have not been the same since he was jocked off last month's Ladbroke Hurdle winner, Master Tribe, in favour of Norman Williamson.
"Having reviewed my situation with Mrs Pitman, I have decided it is in my best interests to ride as a freelance and seek different opportunities," Marston said yesterday. "In two seasons I have ridden 70 winners for the yard including two Cheltenham Festival winners [Indefence and Nahthen Lad] and I considered it a successful partnership.
"But the time has come for myself and the yard to go our separate ways. However, I wish them all the best for the future."
Pitman's three winners in the last eight days have all been partnered by Rodney Farrant, who now seems certain to gain even greater employment from the Upper Lambourn yard.
Chris Maude too is likely to be in growing demand following the sandwich- board effect of victory in an influential television race on Saturday. Maude's Tote Gold Trophy collaborator, Make A Stand, was yesterday cut to 10-1 (from 33-1) by Ladbrokes for the Champion Hurdle in the wake of his nine-length victory.
No hurdler has gone on from capturing the Newbury race to Champion Hurdle success since Persian War in 1968, but Make A Stand carried more weight at the weekend than the nine that have tried and failed since then. In addition the Tote winners of the last four years have performed with distinction at the Festival, none of them finishing outside the first five.
Make A Stand's prospects at Prestbury Park would be greatly compromised by any softening in the going. Jim Old, the man behind the Champion Hurdler, Collier Bay, has already hinted darkly that he may withdraw his horse from the Festival unless a reservoir's volume of water is thrown on to the Gloucestershire terrain. However, Nicky Henderson, who has recorded doubles at both the last two fast-ground Cheltenhams, warned yesterday that the sprinklers should not be used to materially change the description of the ground. "It has got to be fair for everyone and you can't water to change the ground," the trainer said. "We just want a level playing field.
"It's all very well to say `water to suit Collier Bay' but what about a horse like Space Trucker? Jessica Harrington [who trains the Irish horse] is entitled to say `what's this all about?' We must forget who it is suiting, because the point is horses' safety and we want decent ground from a safety point of view.
"But you have got to be bloody careful watering at this time of the year as it is totally unnatural. If we have a lot of frosts, it could do untold damage."
This opinion found accord with another trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies. "You can't please everyone but the welfare of the horses is the most important thing," he said. "If the going is on the firm side, it definitely does detract from the meeting."
Twiston-Davies reported that Arctic Kinsman, a faller in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on Saturday, will now contest Kempton's Emblem Chase a week on Saturday. That will bring the grey into conflict with Viking Flagship, who missed the Game Spirit with a bruised foot.
The Flagship's trainer, David Nicholson, took the prize for the turf's best recent non sequitur as he established that Oliver McCall was not the only confused man to turn up for sport over the weekend. After the 10-year-old's withdrawal, the Duke opined: "It's particularly disappointing as several people have asked me for my autograph today, saying they had come here specially to see him." Indeed.Reuse content