Racing: Top Cees on song for Sangster

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The Independent Online
For most people on a racecourse, Lady Luck is just an occasional acquaintance, but in the case of Robert Sangster, she is a close and lifelong friend. Even when he is just standing around minding his own business, it seems, she is out there working hard on his behalf, as became clear after Top Cees carried the Sangster silks to success in the Chester Cup here yesterday.

This, backers will surely recall, was the horse who won the same race two years ago, only to receive what might be termed a villain's welcome from the Roodeye racegoers. They felt that a defeat at Newmarket immediately prior to Chester owed little to lack of ability and rather more to the desire of Lynda Ramsden, Top Cees' trainer, to avoid a penalty at Chester. So annoyed was Alan Leonard, the gelding's owner, at their lack of warmth and the blast of media criticism which followed, that he decided to sell a 50 per cent share in Top Cees. The man who bought it was Sangster, and as a result, he not only added another pounds 15,000 or so to his prize-money account yesterday, but, just for good measure, backed the 11-2 chance as well.

Even yesterday, the reception as Top Cees was led back could hardly be called rapturous, but neither owner nor trainer was in a mood to worry. Much the same was true throughout the dizzying passage around the Roodeye, when the only serious danger to Sangster's money was that Jimmy Fortune might lose count of the laps and win the race a circuit too soon. Even when Etterby Park went five lengths clear with half a mile to run, Fortune was still travelling so sweetly that, but for the thick slaps of mud on horse and rider, you would have thought that he had just left the stalls. He reeled the leader in on the turn for home, and had six lengths to spare at the line.

"I thought they were going too fast in the soft ground and I knew that they would come back to me," Fortune said. "It was just a matter of steering him." This, though, is not as straightforward as it sounds, as several of Top Cees' work riders have discovered.

"He's not an easy horse to ride at home because he tries to drop everyone," his trainer said. "Jimmy came off when he whipped round on the gallops earlier this year, and he's an absolute nightmare to catch when he does get loose. Kieren [Fallon] fell off him before the Cesarewitch last year and he ran straight off down to the village."

For all this, however, Ramsden is more than willing to forgive him. "You can't help but love him because it's just a game," she said. "There's no malice in him, he's not trying to shirk the issue, he just likes to test the people on top of him. If he were a person, he'd be doing it with a smile on his face."

Since Top Cees had risen 15lb in the weights since his success two years ago, it says much for Ramsden's talents that she could coax so much improvement from an ageing gelding. It is part of a trainer's art to be able to "get a horse handicapped", or in other words, persuade the handicapper to drop it to a winning mark, and few do so more skilfully than Ramsden, as Bishops Court, who cantered home in the sprint handicap, demonstrated just an hour later.

In the intervening race, the Cheshire Oaks, Kyle Rhea produced an 11- length beating of Grapevine which, if she were to be supplemented for the Oaks itself, would make her a 12-1 chance with the Tote to win the fillies' Classic.

The Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot is a far more likely destination, however, not least because Henry Cecil, her trainer, is already responsible for Reams Of Verse, the ante-post favourite for Epsom. William Hill took her stablemate's victory as a positive sign and cut Reams Of Verse to 7-1 from 8-1, but odds of 12-1 are still available from the Tote.