Racing: Richards strengthens his Cup hand

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The Independent Online
Penniless punters trying to find their bus fare home from the track could do a lot worse at present than to try to tap Gordon Richards for a tenner. The new jumps season could hardly have started any better for the man from Greystoke, with 23 winners from 47 runners for a strike-rate which nudges 50 per cent, and yesterday he had a double cause for celebration as the victory of Unguided Missile at Haydock and the defeat of Suny Bay at Kempton both tightened his grip on the Hennessy Gold Cup, to be run at Newbury on Saturday week.

Unguided Missile's three rivals for the Edward Hanmer Memorial included Gales Cavalier, who beat Viking Flagship at Cheltenham last season, and last year's Hennessy winner Couldnt Be Better, but despite lacking a previous run he beat them both with conspicuous ease.

None the less, he remains a 12-1 chance for the Hennessy with William Hill, but the principal reason for such apparent generosity is that another of Richards's entries, recent Ayr winner The Grey Monk, is an impregnable favourite at 7-4.

"I have to be pleased with that, he did it very well," Richards said. "The Greenalls Gold Cup might be a realistic target later in the season, and I am sure he is the type to handle Aintree in due course.''

Unguided Missile is just one of four Greystoke entries for the Hennessy. "I thought it was well worth leaving all four in the race and at this stage I'm leaving my options open," the trainer said. "The Grey Monk did it very well and I thought Addington Boy ran a smashing race in the Murphy's Gold Cup. Certainly, though, I would have to say that The Grey Monk is the main one at the moment."

The nearest rival to The Grey Monk in the ante-post betting is Challenger Du Luc, the Murphy's winner, at 6-1, with Billygoat Gruff and Coome Hill on 8-1 and Addington Boy a 10-1 chance.

Couldnt Be Better, who finished within hailing distance of Unguided Missile yesterday only because Richard Dunwoody had eased the winner to a walk, is 12-1 to repeat last year's Hennessy success. "I was pleased with his run and it means that he doesn't have to carry a penalty," Charlie Brooks, his trainer, commented later.

Less encouraging for Brooks, however, was the performance of Suny Bay in the Limber Hill Chase at Kempton. Suny Bay set out as the 5-1 second favourite for the Hennessy, but failed to recover from a mistake on the far side on the final circuit before finishing well-beaten behind Trying Again.

The leading bookmakers immediately removed him from their Hennessy betting, and subsequent tests indicated that Suny Bay broke a blood vessel. "My horses have been running very well, but this is a worry because it might indicate some sort of viral or bacterial infection," Brooks said.

A second impressive success for a northern yard at Haydock was that of Marello, a three-time bumper winner, in the novice hurdle which opened the card.

Mary Reveley's mare beat Nigel Twiston-Davies's Queen Of Spades - who started the 1-2 favourite - by two and a half lengths, with Peter Niven motionless in the saddle, and will clearly be one of the season's leading novices over hurdles.

Before racing at Kempton yesterday, the course disclosed that a sponsor has been found for the track's valuable Christmas meeting, which includes the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day and the Christmas Hurdle 24 hours later.

Pertemps, current sponsors of the St Leger at Doncaster, will support the meeting after signing a "substantial" one-year deal, and contribute a proportion of the pounds 270,000 available in added prize-money.

Kempton also announced plans for an pounds 8.4m redevelopment of their facilities. Work will start at the course in February, concentrating principally on the grandstand and re-siting of the paddock immediately behind it, and should be finished in time for the King George meeting in December 1997.

HENNESSY COGNAC GOLD CUP: Ladbrokes: 7-4 The Grey Monk, 8-1 Suny Bay, Billygoat Gruff & Challenger Du Luc, 10-1 Addington Boy & Coome Hill, 11-1 Couldnt Be Better, 12-1 General Crack & Johnny Setaside, 16-1 bar; 7-1 (with a run) Unguided Missile. Coral: 7-4 The Grey Monk, 7-1 Billygoat Gruff, 10-1 Addington Boy, Challenger Du Luc & Coombe Hill, 12-1 Feathered Gale, General Crack & Johnny Setaside, 14-1 bar.