Racing: Teeton hints at glories ahead

No hint of trouble for Mill as the glamorous grey produces a brilliant trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup
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The Independent Online
EXIT PAINTED rumour. Teeton Mill, Britain's great white hope for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup, gave as good an exhibition of his well- being as any horse could without sprouting wings with a scintillating win in the Mitsubishi Shogun Ascot Chase here yesterday. Indeed, Pegasus himself would not have scorned the flying leaps produced by the 10-year- old grey as he took a smart field apart under Norman Williamson's guidance from the saddle.

The most restrained person in the unsaddling enclosure after the race was Venetia Williams, Teeton Mill's trainer, who has in recent weeks been plagued by media suggestions her stable star was about to collapse in a heap. She would have been entitled to smirk: "I told you so" as the scribes closed in for the post-race analysis but, like the lady she is, her only crack was: "I have no comment on the past. Let's look to the future, shall we?"

Teeton Mill's performance, like his performance in winning the King George VI Chase, oozed class. His six rivals over a two-and-a-half-mile trip reckoned short of his optimum included Direct Route and Lake Kariba, putting their Queen Mother Champion Chase credentials on the line. But, with stamina to spare up his sleeve, Williamson took the race to his opponents. He more than matched strides with the one horse who tried to go with him early, Senor El Betrutti, outjumping his fellow-grey in particularly flamboyant style at the fence in front of the stands.

Williamson began to wind up the pace on the downhill stretch on the far side of the course, where his partner's ability in the air was taking lengths out of the others. "He is so quick and accurate," said the Irishman, "even if he gets in a bit close he snaps up, really clever."

As Senor El Betrutti began to feel the pinch Lake Kariba was the only one to remain in Teeton Mill's wake, but the effort cost him and the pack swallowed him. Williamson glanced round for danger approaching the turn into the straight and must have been heartened to see Richard Dunwoody hard at work on Direct Route, who had been hampered in scrimmaging at Swinley Bottom.

As a horse who is getting slightly tired often will, Teeton Mill jumped a little crooked at the last two obstacles. It is often easier to adjust direction than momentum to achieve a smooth jump and, as soon as Williamson grabbed hold of him once safely over the last, he picked up the bridle again with a will and came home, ears pricked, four lengths clear of the Grand National-bound Senor El Betrutti, who found a remarkable second wind and stayed on strongly to catch Challenger Du Luc in the last few strides.

Poor Challenger Du Luc, so often the bridesmaid in important contests, did not even keep his third place. His rider Timmy Murphy was judged the guilty party in the interference, in which Chief's Song was also a sufferer and, with his mount's disqualification, Super Coin and Direct Route were moved up a place each to third and fourth. Murphy picked up a 10-day ban, starting on Monday week, for reckless riding.

Williams' emotions after her charge's performance were satisfaction and relief. "I felt the illest I have for some time yesterday, this morning and during the race", she said. "thank goodness it was only two and a half miles and not three."

The trainer made a point of dedicating the victory to Stephen Winstanley, boss of The Winning Line tipping service, whose colours Teeton Mill carries. "It was his idea to come here over the shorter distance and it was a perfect sharpener for the horse. Now we just pray we can keep him in one piece and healthy for the next three weeks. And don't ask me to quantify how fit he was today. 80 per cent? 92 per cent? How can anyone tell exactly? I don't deal in figures, I train horses."

Teeton Mill's display, which took his unbeaten run this term to four, contracted his price marginally for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, 25 days hence, with each of the leading bookmakers. The best price on offer at close of play yesterday was Hills' 3-1. Young Irish ace Florida Pearl is their 11-4 favourite, but there is little between the two in any list. Williamson will be counting the days until the showdown. He said: "Any horse in the Gold Cup has a lot on its plate, but this one must have a huge chance. It is possible to pick holes in Florida Pearl's form, but it is very difficult to fault Teeton Mill."

The Reynoldstown Chase is a contest for novice staying chasers won by such luminaries as Royal Athlete, Mr Mulligan and One Man in the past decade. Yesterday's renewal went to Lord Of The River, who appeared to be getting the better of a ding-dong tussle with Marlborough when that one subsided at the last in a typical tired-horse fall.

It was a smart performance under a penalty by Lord Of The River and he and Spendid, who gave Unsinkable Boxer, the Gold Cup contender among the novice ranks, a distinct fright at Warwick an hour and a half later, will go to Cheltenham as two of the home side's brightest chances of repelling Ireland's rising star Nick Dundee in the Sun Alliance Novices' Chase.

At Warwick, Behrajan, winner of the Trial Hurdle, became second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle following news Hors La Loi may miss the race.