Racing: Teeton puts the heat on Florida

AS VENETIA WILLIAMS conducted interviews following Teeton Mill's victory at Ascot on Saturday there were flecks of the great horse's grey hair obvious on her black blazer. Over in Co Kilkenny, another trainer was probably sprouting similar material on his head.

Willie Mullins, the man behind Teeton Mill's Irish counterpart, Florida Pearl, watched the Ascot Chase on television while racing at Gowran Park. He resisted the temptation to throw a brick through the screen.

Mullins now knows, the Irish nation knows, that their noble fencer will have to be exceptional if he is to win the Gold Cup at the foot of Prestbury hill three weeks on Thursday. And if Florida Pearl can indeed beat Teeton Mill he may well approach the level of animal he is reported to be after several creamy ales in the Republic.

"On what we saw yesterday you'd have to be very afraid of Teeton Mill," Mullins said. "It was a tremendous performance, galloping everything into the ground. Teeton Mill grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck and never let go. He had it won a long way out."

When Teeton Mill and Florida Pearl duck between the ropes and touch gloves for the first time at the Festival next month they will do so in front of some minds which believe that one, maybe even both of them, will not go the distance. Some saw a touch of the dilettante in the way the Irish horse sauntered when hitting the front at Leopardstown recently. And there were those on Saturday who considered that Teeton Mill exhibited so much speed that his staying power must now be questioned.

But if both our gladiators have stamina as well as pace in their already well-stocked arsenals then this could be a Blue Riband to cherish. Arkle and Mill House, the previous great Anglo-Irish bout, may be downgraded to the undercard.

"To win a Gold Cup you need to have speed and to stay," Mullins added yesterday. "Top-class horses have to do both. By and large, you have to have a measure of acceleration to win a Gold Cup and I'd certainly rather have it than not."

The buds were coming and there was spring in the air at Ascot on Saturday. There was spring also in the legs of Teeton Mill. He was not as poorly as some people have made out.

That said, it was by deed more than appearance that he set himself apart. In the paddock he looked a little woolly and docile, something to make a good jumper out of rather than being a good jumper himself.

As soon as the blood was up it was a different tale, a slashing stride propelling the grey so quickly that his ears appeared to be bending back like reeds in the Berkshire breeze. Teeton Mill sees no peril in fences. He accelerates into them and then displays slam-dunk jumping, hanging in there before the earth comes up to his hooves.

A pedant might observe that the horse jumped slightly left throughout and, between the last two obstacles, he felt the texture of Norman Williamson's whip as he started to meander gently. By then, though, the meaningful endeavour had been done. "Even when he met one wrong, as he was always going to do at some point, what was so pleasing was that he sorted himself out in company with the specialist speed merchants," Williams said. "He's quick isn't he?"

Teeton Mill's hue is not repulsive to those who try to sell racing, and at Ascot came the realisation that we have been sent an animal to replace One Man, an animal who by looks and performance reaches out to the broader constituency. This is now the must-see horse: Teeton Mill, coming to a racecourse near you soon.

The old boy was back in his dressing-room yesterday and in spiffing form. Williams, like the horse, is relatively new to the big time and remains cross about stories put around by certain agents concerning Teeton Mill's health. Like losing bets, and muddy trousers, that's all a part of racing.

"He's absolutely fine this morning, looks a picture and obviously Cheltenham is the next stop," the trainer said. "It just goes to show that all the rumours about him were blown out of all proportion and simply wrong."

The insinuations about Unsinkable Boxer appear to have been unfounded too. It had been said that Martin Pipe's horse was a potential Gold Cup horse, but he did a very poor impression of that calibre of beast at Warwick on Saturday, holding on by a head from Spendid.

Unsinkable Boxer may still run in the Gold Cup, although the Royal & SunAlliance Chase and the Stayers' Hurdle are also under consideration. "He had to do all the donkey work and he made a couple of bad blunders," Pipe said yesterday. "I must admit I was pleased with the way he jumped when they were actually travelling at a racing race." Pipe is not usually so easily pleased.