Racing: Williamson decides

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The Independent Online
NORMAN WILLIAMSON yesterday ended speculation by committing himself to the ride on Teeton Mill in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Irishman has ridden Teeton Mill in all four starts this season but his position in the saddle had appeared less than certain in recent days as reports suggested he would partner the leading novice Nick Dundee instead.

In a statement yesterday morning he said: "I confirm that I ride Teeton Mill in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. I think he has an outstanding chance and would not wish to be on any other horse."

Teeton Mill is officially rated Britain's best chaser after wins in the Hennessy Gold Cup, King George VI Chase and Ascot Chase. He is 5- 2 joint favourite for the Gold Cup with Ladbrokes alongside Florida Pearl.

Nick Dundee is 7-4 market leader for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase having won his last three starts in novice company but his trainer, Eddie O'Grady, is considering switching him to the Gold Cup.

Stephen Winstanley, speaking on behalf of Teeton Mill's owners, The Winning Line, said: "We are delighted that Norman Williamson has confirmed he will ride Teeton Mill, although we never really had any doubt he would take the mount."

"Obviously we appreciate he didn't want to burn his bridges with connections of Nick Dundee, especially if that horse isn't going to run anyway. I know that Norman feels the horse has an outstanding chance, and Teeton Mill has been working really well recently.

"As far as The Winning Line and Venetia Williams [the trainer] are concerned the race can't come soon enough."

One horse for whom the Festival may have come too soon is Direct Route, former favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Although Direst Route was among 14 horses left in the race at yesterday's declaration stage, his trainer, Howard Johnson is still battling against bad weather which has hindered the gelding's preparation for next Wednesday's contest.

"Things have got worse here," a stable spokesperson said. "Howard is despondent. We've had rain and snow and now we have got fog."

Queen Mother Champion Chase acceptors: Ask Tom (trained: T Tate), Call Equiname (P Nicholls), Celibate (C Mann), Cumbrian Challenge (T Easterby), Direct Route (J H Johnson), Edelweis Du Moulin (Miss V Williams), Edredon Bleu (Miss H Knight), Green Green Desert (P Nicholls), Hill Society (N Meade, Irl), Kadastrof (R Dickin), Lord Dorcet (A Charlton), Mulligan (D Nicholson), Or Royal (M Pipe), Papillon (T Walsh, Irl).