Racing: Perrett aims to keep Free hand

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MARK PERRETT embarks on the third in a profitable series of virtual blind dates at Haydock this afternoon when his mount, Run For Free, meets Jodami in the Peter Marsh Chase, one of those Gold Cup trials that leave you gazing at your ante-post vouchers in . . . confusion.

Perrett, one of the few jockeys to ride both on the Flat and over jumps, has partnered Martin Pipe's chaser just twice and never sees him between races. The fact that he has been asked to accompany Run For Free for a third time today, though, suggests that Pipe has already chalked Perrett's name up against the horse for the big day at Cheltenham on 18 March.

'I'd certainly like to think that's the way they see it,' Perrett said yesterday at Kempton, and with the likelihood that Pipe's stable jockey, Peter Scudamore, will choose Rushing Wild as his vehicle in the Gold Cup, Perrett is unlikely to be deposed between now and March. The other Pipe runner to be matched with a 'coachman', as jockeys were known in Victorian times, is the injury-prone Chatam, currently 20-1 in most lists.

The convergence of Run For Free and Jodami (not to mention Gold Options, Twin Oaks and Tipping Tim) in one of Haydock's most informative chases is an unexpected treat and one which should assist enormously in the evaluation of these two rapidly ascending runners. They are, after all, third and fourth favourites for the Gold Cup and, Rushing Wild aside, are the two outstanding prospects among the generation graduating to championship class.

Run For Free, remember, is the chaser who led the four-horse Pipe parade in the Welsh National at Chepstow last month and has been drifting in the Gold Cup betting purely because his stable-companion, Rushing Wild, has emerged with such force. Run For Free also beat Jodami at Haydock earlier in the season, though he did have a fitness advantage that day. 'This is the toughest test he has faced so far. We've got it all to do,' Perrett said yesterday, and that about tells you all you need to know about the regard in which Jodami is held.

Perhaps the crucial factor in today's encounter will be how Run For Free and Jodami jump against each other as well as the ageing but ultra-experienced pair, Twin Oaks and Gold Options, and in that respect you can see why both trainers (Pipe and Peter Beaumont) chose the Peter Marsh Chase as the ideal prep-race for Cheltenham. By testing their young celebrities here, Pipe and Beaumont are forcing upon them a proper examination while at the same time saving them the even greater rigours of the Hennessy Gold Cup in Ireland next month (in which Chatam is likely to represent Pipe).

Both Run For Free and Jodami are capable of making jockey-firing jumping errors but both are increasingly professional in the business of surving those mistakes, so you can only hope that neither Perrett nor Mark Dwyer (Jodami's rider) get a sense today of what John Francome meant on Radio 4 earlier this week when he compared riding a steeplechaser at speed to 'skiing down a black run blindfolded and on one ski'.

In the more genteel world of hurdling, Pipe's Vagog ought to confirm his candidacy for the Festival by winning the stayers' race at Haydock, while in the Champion Hurdle Trial at the same course, Coulton and Ruling attempt to join Mighty Mogul and Halkopous near the front of the Festival grid.

If you want to monitor all the Champion Hurdle rehearsals this weekend you will have to go as far as the Capanelle, Rome. Mark Tompkins, the Newmarket trainer, has spotted a pounds 45,000 race there this afternoon and so has dispatched his Staunch Friend as the standard bearer in what could become regular overseas missions.

On strange territory, too, is Tim Forster, the arch-traditionalist who finds himself with more talented hurdlers this season than ever before. Forster, a steeplechasing man to the marrow, may conceal his disdain for the lowlife world of hurdling if his Martha's Son wins Kempton's Lanzarote Handicap.

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