As expected, the Gold Cup winner Jodami and Carvill's Hill were the most illustrious names among those withdrawn from the pounds 50,000 chase at the five-day stage yesterday. There were 23 horses taken out and just 10 left standing, and some of those are likely to defect if the going becomes any faster.
Only twice in the last 26 runnings have there been fewer runners for the autumn's most prestigious long-distance handicap chase. On those occasions, firm ground contributed to only eight going to post for the victories of Approaching (1978) and Ghofar (1989); and the small fields in the mid-Sixties can be attributed to the intimidating presence of a horse called Arkle.
Of those remaining, the greatest doubts concern the heavily-backed Whispering Steel. Gordon Richards, his trainer, has warned that the seven-year-old will not take part if the ground is unsuitably fast.
Adrian Maguire, who brought out the best in the 40-1 winner Sibton Abbey last year, is likely to team up with Ireland's Cahervillahow. Maguire will replace Norman Williamson if that rider's appearance before the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Committee today for persistent whip offences results in a suspension of four days or more.
Based on the optimism of Cahervillahow's trainer, Mouse Morris, Maguire has been presented with another great opportunity. 'Cahervillahow lost his form last season,' Morris said. 'But seems as well as he was two years ago when he ran great races in the Hennessy and the Whitbread. He is a good-ground horse and the handicapper has given me a great chance.'
Equally well suited by the ground is Black Humour, who now shares favouritism in most lists. His rider, Graham Bradley, yesterday decided to accept a seven-day riding ban imposed by stewards in Ireland at the weekend for making 'insufficient effort'. The ban rules him out from 29 November to 5 December.
Fahd Salman is to sponsor the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket and name it after his best horse, Generous, winner of the race in 1990. Prince Fahd will cease sponsorship of the Newgate Stud Middle Park Stakes, which he has backed for four years.