Racing: Tom to wait for Festival

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The Independent Online
MOST DRAMATIC moments at the Cheltenham Festival are greeted by swarms of hats filling the air. This year, however, the millinery trajectory was somewhat different after Ask Tom had finished a bad sixth of eight when favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Tom Tate, the gelding's trainer, was asked to explain this aberration to the stewards and stated something along the lines of "it's hardly surprising as we just put his leg back on with Sellotape this morning". Trilbies and flat caps were sent hurtling to the ground. Tate's prior documentation of Ask Tom's problems had been less than thorough.

The trainer later expounded that the condition of a horse is of no business to punters, the faceless who keep the whole show on the road. He prefers to deal rather more simply with the owners who keep his own personal dinghy floating.

The bulletin which emerged from the Tadcaster trainer yesterday therefore has to be treated with a speck of suspicion, though it appears that the big, ear-twitching Ask Tom will not run again until next year's Queen Mum (injury permitting and even then we will probably not know the extent of it).

"He injured a suspensory on his joint which just raised its head before Cheltenham and interrupted his preparation," Tate said yesterday. "We've given the injury time to settle.

"He won't be entered in the Victor Chandler [which he won in 1997] and won't be entered until the New Year. In fact, he will go straight for the Queen Mum without a prep race. He's back on the road again and we are starting to get optimistic."

The weights for the Victor Chandler Chase, which were published yesterday, appear to add further fuel to the theory that this is something of a transitional jumping campaign, with the old lions being chased from the pride by a new generation. The young guns Lake Kariba and Edredon Bleu head the entries for the two-mile handicap at Ascot on 16 January, ahead of the likes of Klairon Davis, Jeffell and Celibate.

The last two named fought out the finish last year and Charlie Mann, Celibate's trainer, is hardly quaking about the influx of younger horses. "I'm very happy with 11st 4lb," he said. "It seems a handy weight.

"Celibate runs at Ascot on Saturday in the race he won last year [the Frogmore Handicap Chase] but he has 12st. Neither Mick Fitzgerald nor Richard Dunwoody are available, so I'll put my amateur, Noel Fehily, on. But the Victor Chandler has always been the aim after he all but won it last time."

Victor Chandler will not be the only sponsor getting a mention next year. Champagne Lanson have jumped into the breach at Goodwood and will support the Sussex Stakes for the next three seasons. The bubbles money will mean that the contest run on the second day of the Glorious meeting becomes the second most valuable all-aged mile race in Europe behind the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. The same firm will continue to sponsor the juvenile Champagne Lanson Vintage Stakes.

As one vine flourished, though, another died yesterday when Pertemps, the recruitment agency, announced in shorthand that they would not be renewing their contract to sponsor the St Leger. The oldest Classic is therefore left cruelly on its own at Christmas time.

Pertemps continue to support the turf and will be most visible over Kempton's Yuletide meeting. However, their retreat from Doncaster became almost inevitable after a rather nasty spat at the Leger meeting this year when a horse they hired for the occasion was disqualified from first place. As a consequence, Tim Watts, the Pertemps group chairman, almost became the first man in space without the assistance of rocket fuel. He has not forgotten.

"We've had a great four years [with Pertemps] and Mr Watts doesn't hold Doncaster racecourse responsible for what happened. The stewards and their decisions are completely separate from the racecourse," a statement read. It came from a Town Moor spokeswoman and the unworthy may have questioned the validity of its sentiments. You could call it the Tom Tate factor.