Racing: Step On Eyre's ascent to reach Hennessy level

THE COLD FACTS of the betting may suggest otherwise, but in one sense at least, there are no outsiders in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury today. Nothing is running because its owner is entertaining clients in the restaurant, or because its trainer is drunk with misplaced optimism. Or, for that matter, just plain drunk. Instead, the connections of every one of the 13 runners will arrive at the track with a tightness in their belly which reminds them that they might just win the big one.

It should make for a magnificent spectacle, as gnarled old Suny Bay attempts to give weight to a field with an embarrassment of youth and promise. A root through previous runnings might prove otherwise, but the impression is that no Hennessy in recent memory has contained so many chasers on an upward curve.

This is a race which has everyone guessing, even the bookmakers, who have seen runs on several horses, including Earthmover, Betty's Boy and Djeddah, since Monday's five-day stage. So while the market on a big ante- post contest like the Hennessy usually finds its level by the day of the race, with the price of every runner pretty much where it should be, this one could still have some value left somewhere.

The punt on Earthmover has been enough to take him to the head of the market, and Paul Nicholls, his trainer, believes that the jumping problems which plagued him last season are a thing of the past. If so, he is certainly well-handicapped on his best form, but both his wins this year have come in novice hurdles, while in his only start over fences he was a long way behind Ever Blessed. His fencing could easily come apart under today's pressure, which makes the 5-1 against him a poor price.

Spendid too makes the odd mistake, which will count against him in a race as unforgiving as this, while Ever Blessed, for all the promise he showed first time up, is out of the handicap and possibly facing this test a little too soon.

Given these doubts about some of the market leaders, the double-figure runners are the ones to investigate. Betty's Boy, lightly raced for a 10-year-old, is one possibility, but the best value may lie with a horse who was pulled up behind him in the William Hill Handicap Chase at Cheltenham this year.

Betty's Boy was a 20-1 chance for that race, while Step On Eyre set off at 11-2, which gives a fair idea of how their respective seasons had progressed to that point. Step On Eyre appeared the most progressive horse in the race, with three straight wins behind him, but he hit the eighth hard and was never going afterwards.

Forgive him that run, though, and he is as fairly-weighted as any horse in the race. He won first time up last year, and gets in on the minimum weight of 10st. At 20-1 this morning, STEP ON EYRE (nap 2.35) is the bet of the day.

The supporting card at Newbury is typically strong, with Bacchanal (1.00) fancied to return to the dominant form of his victory at Chepstow last season in the Gerry Fielden Hurdle. Hot `N Saucy (2.00) also deserves another chance in the handicap hurdle, while fitness may give Silver Wedge (1.30) the beating of Anzum, the champion stayer, in the Long Distance Hurdle.

Dato Star is the best horse in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, but he often finds a way to get himself beaten, and has not been out for almost a year. Fatehalkhair (2.55) may take advantage, while at Haydock, Scotmail Lad (3.40) should improve for his reappearance at Ayr two weeks ago.

There will be spectators in abundance to see Istabraq win the Hatton's Grace Hurdle for the third year in a row at Fairyhouse tomorrow, although opponents to the champion hurdler - there are just four - are hard to come by these days.

There is stiffer competition in Japan, where the last major Flat race of the year takes place tomorrow. Montjeu, the Arc winner, will start favourite for the Japan Cup, and neither his jockey, Mick Kinane, or trainer, John Hammond, expects the fast Tokyo track to cause him any problems. Alborada now misses the race due to a foot injury - and heads to the paddocks and a mating with Danzig - leaving Fruits Of Love (Mark Johnston) and Godolphin's High-Rise to mount a challenge for Britain.