Racing: Pearl is ready for last ditch attempt

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THE FORM BOOK tells us that the biggest danger to Florida Pearl is big and dark and, like the great horse himself, nurtured in Ireland.

This nemesis is not a beast, however, but rather the third last fence at Leopardstown, at which Willie Mullins' seven-year-old came to grief in the Ericsson Chase on his latest start. That obstacle, a ditch, put a dent in Florida Pearl's unbeaten record over Christmas, and his rivals in Sunday's Irish Gold Cup back at Leopardstown may anticipate a recurrence. It is not a straw they should grab too tightly.

Florida Pearl has cleared that fence proficiently in two races during his novice season. It is a barrier he has crossed expertly since the Ericsson while schooling. Indeed, it is probably his favourite obstacle.

"Strangely enough, it is the one fence that, when he'd jumped it the twice before in races, he'd really pinged and got a length at," Mullins said yesterday. "It seems to be a favourite fence of his, so it was both surprising and disappointing what he did that day. He probably wasn't going fast enough at it. We went up to Leopardstown after the Ericsson and he pinged that fence, so he certainly has no bad memories of the day."

They probably belong to Richard Dunwoody, the jockey that afternoon who found himself dropping off at the same time as the Christmas tree needles. However, Dunwoody returns to action today.

The unproductive speculation continues as to whether Florida Pearl would have overhauled Dorans Pride at Leopardstown had he remained upright. Connections, naturally enough, assess his capsize as a result of a lapse rather than fatigue. "You wouldn't have been disappointed if he'd been tired because they'd gone a right clatter and burned off the other horses," Mullins said, "but Richard told me he hadn't asked him a question at that stage.

"He didn't actually fall and hit the ground, he went down on his tummy. He got up straight away, galloped on and jumped two hurdles, which tells me he wasn't tired at the time. A tired horse would have fallen, rolled over and taken all day to get up. He was up before Richard."

Florida Pearl was a glutton for this punishment. Afterwards he ate up twice, as Mullins did not realise the horse had been fed before being returned to his lodgings at Bagenalstown in Co Carlow. Now the big horse must devour a maximum of 10 opponents on Sunday, among whom there are likely to be two British challengers.

Florida Pearl is the 11-10 favourite with Ladbrokes, in front of David Nicholson's Escartefigue (6-4), with whom he had such a compelling struggle in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Chase at last year's Festival. Addington Boy (40-1) makes his debut for Ferdy Murphy if the soft ground firms up. "It would need to dry out a bit, but he is near enough a certain runner as the forecast is for a dry week," the trainer said yesterday. "Adrian Maguire will ride and if the ground is lively, I am looking for a good run. Obviously we won't trouble the major ones, but he worked well at the weekend, and he has been aimed at this race."

Addington Boy's schedule also includes the Grand National, which is also likely to be the next port of call for the title holder and another Sunday entry, Earth Summit. "He will probably go straight to Aintree, though if it was really wet, we might just have a look at the Gold Cup," Nigel Payne, one of the gelding's co-owners, said yesterday. "We want to give him an extended break and have him bursting out of his skin for Aintree."

The programme for Florida Pearl's great Gold Cup rival, Teeton Mill, was also established yesterday. The grey will have his tune-up for the blue riband over two and a half miles in the Mitsubishi Shogun Ascot Chase two weeks on Saturday. "There aren't many races in which he can run before Cheltenham and if that race didn't take place, he could yet go straight to the Festival," Venetia Williams, the trainer, said yesterday. "He hasn't got to have a run."

Meanwhile, Lord Gyllene, the 1997 Grand National winner, heads the weights for the Singer & Friedlander National Trial at Uttoxeter on Saturday. Others declared include General Wolfe, Eudipe, Fiddling The Facts and Kendal Cavalier.

n Leicester's meeting tomorrow is subject to a 9.15am inspection today. The course is waterlogged.

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Nap: Adamatic

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