Racing: Native's Mission possible

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The Independent Online
THE aftermath of the Hennessy Gold Cup in November resembled nothing so much as a scene from the Fifties B-flick The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, writes Greg Wood.

As mute, wide-eyed punters tried to digest the fact that Sibton Abbey had just taken the big race at 40-1 from a stone and a half out of the handicap, the role of the sole surviving human was played by Geoff Hubbard, the winning owner, who clutched a sheaf of ante-post betting tickets with all the careful affection of a poker player holding a running flush.

For the connections, Sibton Abbey's win was by no means a shock, but if racing's historians, who of course did not back him, are to see his victory as anything more than an outrageous fluke, he will need to win his next engagement, the Anthony Mildmay/Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase at Sandown next Saturday. The likely opposition includes last year's Gold Cup winner, Cool Ground, but Toby Balding's gelding has failed to trouble a judge since, and Hubbard should be rewarded again.

No matter which owner picks up an apparently munificent cheque after next Saturday's Ladbroke Hurdle at Leopardstown, the sponsors will be the principal winners, such is the fatal charm of this fiendish handicap. Bitofabanter will front a strong defenders' challenge, but Jimmy FitzGerald's Native Mission is as sound an each-way chance as you can find in such a heat.

Newbury's card tomorrow is, so far, safe from the cold. Its Nearly Time (1.00) made a successful reappearance at Uttoxeter last month and should follow up, while at Newton Abbot the following day, Guiburn's Nephew (3.15) can gain an overdue success.