Racing: Thriller fans are still in the dark

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The Independent Online
WHEN HE trotted past the post to win the Jim Ford Chase here yesterday, Double Thriller was so many lengths clear that the judge did not bother to count them, which is about as much as you can ask of any horse. Yet even this was not enough to shift his odds for the Cheltenham Gold Cup by more than a fraction, and when he goes to post at the Festival in less than three weeks' time, punters should still be able to back him at around 9-1.

Since he is, on a literal reading of the form book, the horse they all have to beat, those odds look very fair. Last April, he beat Teeton Mill, the joint-favourite for the Gold Cup, fair and square in a hunter chase at Cheltenham. The catch - and of course, there is always a catch - is that while Teeton Mill has clearly improved enormously this year, Double Thriller's form so far amounts to two victories against opponents who were not fit to plait his tail.

Yesterday's race added nothing new to the database, beyond the fact that Double Thriller is fit and well as the biggest race of his life draws near. Punters in Britain and Ireland must now sit down and ask themselves just how good they think he is. Gut feeling is all they have to go on.

"We can keep on dreaming, and you lot can keep on guessing," was how Paul Nicholls, Double Thriller's trainer, put it. "When you've got to make the running all the time it's not ideal, and Joe [Tizzard] said that he wasn't doing a tap in front, and I think he'll be much better in better company with a truly run race. Venetia [Williams] has obviously improved Teeton Mill a lot since last year, but I'd like to think that Double Thriller's improved a lot too."

William Hill decided to take the opportunity to cut Double Thriller from 10-1 to 8-1 for Cheltenham, but otherwise his price was unchanged. Hills also trimmed his price for the Grand National, from 8-1 to 7-1. "The Gold Cup will take a lot of winning, and to be honest I think he'll have a better chance in the National," Nicholls said. "But we'll put everything into the Gold Cup and give it our best shot."

Double Thriller could be one of three Gold Cup runners from the yard, along with See More Business and Earthmover, who runs in the Greenalls Grand National Trial at Haydock tomorrow. Nicholls took his leave yesterday with a warning. "Don't forget See More Business," he said. "He's in great form." He is also a 25-1 chance with Hills.

The Champion Hurdle market is even more static than that for the Gold Cup, as neither bookies nor punters can see beyond Istabraq, the odds- on favourite. The Kingwell Hurdle has been one of the better Cheltenham trials in recent years, but Grey Shot's two-and-a-half length success in yesterday's running was not enough to bring him any closer to the top of the market than 25-1.

"He couldn't have done any more on this ground," Andrew Balding, representing his father, Ian, said. "He might have jumped better, and we'll school him before Cheltenham, but he's a different horse on the ground he really wants." Grey Shot needs it fast - it was tacky here yesterday - and a positive thought for anyone looking to back an outsider is that it rarely comes up any softer than good at the Festival.

On the other hand, they could probably stage the race over a two-mile stretch of the M4, and Grey Shot would still not get within a dozen lengths of Istabraq.