Charlie Brooks is as much enamoured with the terrain at Newbury as Dr Foster was with the surface at Gloucester. The trainer of Suny Bay, the shortening favourite for Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup, will walk the course at 11.00am this morning to determine if he will allow his precious grey to dig his heels into the filthy Berkshire earth. The clerk of the course, Richard Pridham, will be at his side and the conversation may well be stilted.
Charlie walked the course last week and was not best pleased at the results of his examination. He felt the ground was suitable for caterpillar tracks, but a tad dangerous for fragile racehorses. He did not keep this idea to himself. In particular, the Lambourn man found the ground inconsistent and certain areas so hard that it was like landing in rubble. "We've had a monsoon here for the last 10 days but it's still only good ground and it would normally have been good to firm," Brooks said yesterday. "More importantly, the take-offs and landing were very firm."
The recent deluge, though, has advanced the idea of Suny Bay's participation. "At the moment it's good ground on the chase course and we haven't got drying conditions, so the vibes this morning are that he will run," the trainer added, "but, hopefully, what will come out of this is a review and a 12-month plan about how the course should be maintained."
If Suny Bay becomes an absentee, it would certainly demean the Hennessy as a contest. The eight-year-old, the Grand National runner-up, looked swollen both in size and musculature when he reappeared gloriously in the Edward Hanmer Limited Handicap Chase at Haydock recently. The looks were not deceptive.
The grey's extravagant victory excited none more than the bookmakers, who confirmed him as the Grand National favourite. He is also a best-priced 16-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Brooks himself has not been swept along in the torrent of enthusiasm. "Everybody else might be talking all sorts of races for him but I'm not," he said. "All I believe is that the horse is improved, and he appears to be a better horse at home than he was last year.
"I think it is going to be a difficult race for him to win. A horse like Time For A Run is going to be very difficult to beat off 10st. It wouldn't surprise me if we won, but then I also wouldn't be surprised if something off a low weight came and beat him. You hope for everything and expect nothing."
There was increased hope also about the Hennessy participation of another of the topweights yesterday when Coome Hill, the victor 12 months ago, satisfactorily negotiated a piece of work in Cornwall. The former hunter- chaser pulled a muscle and knocked out a vertebra on his seasonal reappearance behind Banjo at Cheltenham earlier this month, but now appears ready to be discharged from the sick bay. "Coome Hill worked well today and we might have a try on Saturday," Walter Dennis, the trainer, reported. "He surprised me quite a bit when he worked. It was more of a test and it was heartening. I'll see how he is overnight and if he's okay, I'll give him a go in the morning. I hope I can get him there as this has been the plan all along."
Paul Nicholls will wait until tomorrow before confirming if his Belmont King runs. "I've got a feeling the ground will ride on the slow side of good, in which case my intention is to run, but I will wait until Friday to make a final decision," he said yesterday. William Hill expect participation, shortening Belmont King to 12-1 from 20-1 yesterday.
A definite runner is Martin Pipe's Eudipe, who finished well behind Suny Bay at Haydock when blinkered. "They just did not seem to work," the trainer said. "So we will leave them off on Saturday and hope for the best."