Racing: Teeton on brink of big time

Hennessy Gold Cup: Runaway win puts Venetia Williams' chaser in line for Gold Cup and Grand National
THE DOUBLE-TAKE glance over the right shoulder said it all. Norman Williamson came swinging towards the home straight on Teeton Mill with one horse and four fences between him and victory in the 42nd Hennessy Gold Cup. "I was travelling so easily and everything else seemed to be going badly," the Irishman said. "I just had to check that it was true and when I had a look behind, it was. I could hardly believe it."

With the toiling 14 in arrears disposed of, there remained only Eudipe up front. At the final open ditch, three fences out, Williamson launched Teeton Mill and the grey went past his rival in the air, almost running away. Another spring-heeled effort at the penultimate obstacle settled an issue that was already beyond doubt bar a fall and Teeton Mill came home, eased down, by 15 lengths. Fiddling The Facts stayed on dourly to claim third place six lengths behind Eudipe, with the Irish challenger Boss Doyle in fourth.

It was a consummately easy victory - the winning distance equalled the record for the race held by, among others, Arkle himself - by a rapidly improving horse at the right end of the handicap, very much in the mould of that by a subsequent champion of the same ghostly hue, One Man, four years ago.

And it put the seal on the increasingly obvious talent of Teeton Mill's trainer, Venetia Williams, who took out a licence to train only three years ago. Williams, based in Herefordshire, has a gilt-edged provenance, having learnt her trade with John Edwards and served shorter spells with Eudipe's trainer, Martin Pipe, Barry Hills and the Australian genius Colin Hayes.

Williamson, who has known Williams since he came over from Ireland nine years ago, has never had any doubts that she would make it. "She's very gifted with horses, you see," he said. "She knows them inside out, she rides them herself at home, she thinks about them morning, noon and night, knows their capabilities. All we jockeys have to do is steer them round."

Teeton Mill, a nine-year-old former point-to-point star who now races in the name of a commercial tipping service, The Winning Line, has the Grand National as his long-term target. He looks an ideal type for Aintree, being a thorough stayer and a clever, sensible jumper of a fence.

"He made only one slight mistake today," Williamson said. "Down the back he got a bit close to one when he was a bit short of light, but he was very neat getting over it. I eased him off the rail after that - no point in getting brought down when you're going so well. If he did get a bit lazy at any point he jumped back into my hands as soon as I moved them, and that's the sign of a good horse.

"It's difficult to tell just yet how good he is. I'd have to put him as just a handicapper at the moment, but there aren't that many top horses around and I would hope that he would not be far off them. I promise you, this race felt just as good as it looked."

With a fast enough early pace considering the rain- softened, tacky ground, the contest was one of attrition. Only seven finished - Him Of Praise, Mahler and Sail By The Stars filled the last three places - with Coome Hill and The Toiseach among the early leaders subsequently pulled up. The favourite, Seven Towers, was always trailing.

The bookmakers still rate Teeton Mill some way off Gold Cup class, though his price for the chasing crown has contracted from around 33-1 to 14- 1 in most lists. But Aintree is a different matter; he is now vying with Cyfor Malta and Suny Bay for favouritism.

Although he has been entered for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, his next outing is likely to be the Welsh National two days later, in which he will come up against the reigning king of Liverpool, Earth Summit.

Ten years ago Williams herself rode in a National and will no doubt wish for better luck as a trainer. She was knocked out when Marcolo came down at Becher's and two weeks later her riding career ended when she fractured two bones in her neck in a hurdles fall.

She took charge of Teeton Mill six months ago after his purchase, for pounds 40,000, by his present owners, for whom he promptly won the hunters' championship, the Horse and Hound Cup, and then trounced the opposition on his seasonal debut at Wincanton. Yesterday's win, a giant step up in class, earned another pounds 36,252 towards his keep.

"We were actually going to go for last week's Becher Chase with him, to give him experience of the big fences. But when he won so well at Wincanton we decided we had to come here. We were more worried about whether the horse would be good enough than the soft going, but now we know."