Racing: Suny up with the legends

Click to follow
SIMON SHERWOOD is a fortunate man. He has already revelled in a great moment when pointing Desert Orchid through the Cotswolds mud to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup of 1989. It seems the luck is hanging in.

The former jockey has not only been appointed as trainer to one of National Hunt racing's great seats, Uplands, this season, but he has also inherited another grey beast who may add to his Festival scroll.

Suny Bay won the Edward Hanmer Chase at Haydock yesterday, and he did not win it from beachcombing animals. Some of the best chasers in the business were gasping behind the nine-year-old and it could be that Sherwood is on the trail to yet another memorable moment next March. William Hill now make Suny Bay 12-1 (from 20-1) for the Gold Cup.

"This horse is special, just like Desert Orchid," said Sherwood, who took over at Uplands in Upper Lambourn following the summer departure of Charlie Brooks. "The two horses are similar in many ways, though Desert Orchid had more speed. Suny Bay never shows much at home but, like all good horses, he does it on the course."

There seemed to be some opposition to Suny Bay in the morning prices among bookmakers, but this was not reflected among the old foxes on course. The grey was sent off the 2-1 favourite, despite being the fourth choice in the daybreak lists, and at least the late followers knew they were going to get a run for their money.

Suny Bay duelled for the early lead with the outsider, Mahler, and, for the first circuit, the field was a staggered version of the Tiller girls, jumping in fluent, accomplished style.

Before the water jump, the other grey, The Grey Monk, started to receive raps on his rump. There were no failures in this race - it was stocked by some of the most able and seasoned athletes in jumps racing - and The Grey Monk did not rebel. He continued gamefully until his lungs and fibre could take him no further competitively at the top of the straight.

By then, the main body had flown. Escartefigue looked good for a moment, but the novice skill he has developed has yet to be fired in the greatest kiln. See More Business had recovered from several debilitating vaulting errors, but there was another braveheart beside him.

For much of the journey, Suny Bay had been apparently flat out, head straining down, ears flicking in seeming desperation. But this is a horse that completed the trench warfare of April's Grand National, a horse that is prepared to march forward when the pain suggests surrender might be the best alternative. At the line, Escartefigue was his nearest pursuer and he was five lengths back.

Graham Bradley has ridden plenty of good horses, as he ought to have at his advanced jumping age, and, unless National Hunt senility has set in, the jockey has saved one of the finest until last. "He's certainly up there with the best I've ridden and that includes Wayward Lad, Bregawn and Badsworth Boy," Bradley said. "I think he would be a Gold Cup horse if it was soft ground, but, apart from that, he's a smashing horse for the National."

Before then, Suny Bay may yet attempt to become an equine Hercules and transport an astonishing weight in Saturday week's Hennessy Gold Cup, a race he won last year. The labour would be one of 12st 4lb, the sort of burden that only the greatest of runners could carry to victory. "It would be a tall order with a weight like that and it's 50-50 whether he runs," Sherwood said. A return to the green, green grass of Haydock may be a more likely option next month in the Tommy Whittle Chase.

Escartefigue will now be tipped towards the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. "Don't forget he's a semi-novice taking on seasoned chasers," David Nicholson, his trainer, said.

That target is likely to mean a confrontation with See More Business, who finished fourth yesterday. However, his was not a performance which disturbed Paul Nicholls. "If anything he ran better than in this race last year," the trainer said. "I know he'll improve a lot."

Suny Bay has not improved greatly and nor does he have to. He is, almost certainly, the greatest long-distance chaser in these islands. He deserves a Gold Cup or Grand National.