Carberry can reign in first-day deluge

Soft ground will benefit Cheltenham's leading lady as top-class jumps season begins
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The Independent Online

So there might be a drop of rain about? Big deal. It cannot possibly be as vile as the third day of the meeting, two years ago, when they abandoned the bumper after hours of relentless, horizontal sleet. And of course some among the tweedy throng at Cheltenham today would find perverse satisfaction in their very discomfort, on the principle that when the effete get going, they go to Santa Anita.

Be that as it may, heavy rain during the first top-class fixture of the jumps season will have practical consequences for those proposing a wager. Betting on its biggest prize, the Paddy Power Gold Cup tomorrow, has already been animated by gambles on mudslingers like Tranquil Sea and Ballyfitz, but conditions may already be deteriorating for the four races televised by Channel 4 this afternoon.

Hoopy and Alexanderthegreat – first and second last year, when the winning rider "borrowed" a whip from a startled rival after losing his own – are both back for the opener. The runner-up remains feasibly handicapped, while Hoopy remains entitled to further progress after a recent spin at Galway. But preference is for My Lord Oscar (1.15) who is ridden by the first lady of Cheltenham in Nina Carberry – more than a match for male amateurs – and whose strong-travelling style should be well suited by a good gallop round here.

Carberry and Enda Bolger would appear to have the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase sewn up with the track specialist Garde Champetre (3.0). "He knows his way round all right, had a run three weeks ago, and is cherry-ripe now," the trainer said yesterday, before confessing that his other runner, Heads On The Ground, "is starting to get a bit long in the tooth now."

The Irish also have a couple of formidable candidates for the Sharp Novices' Hurdle in Loosen My Load and Some Present. Punters need to be wary, however, none being tested in very soft ground and most capable of considerable improvement. Some Present (1.50) returns to the scene of his excellent run behind Dunguib in the Champion Bumper and Tom Mullins, his trainer, is happy to ignore his recent defeat in a ludicrous crawl round Punchestown. "He just spooked, I think it was probably at some hurdles stacked on the side, and it turned into a farce after that," Mullins said yesterday. "But he's a pretty good jumper and seems in great form. So we might as well test the water."

Incidentally, Mullins has already produced a bumper horse to make an even more impressive start to his career than did Some Present last season. Some Slam, who runs in the same colours, thrashed several subsequent winners at Listowel in September. "We'll probably run him in a bumper around Christmas," Mullins said. "And then we can take a view, whether he's good enough to go to the Festival. But the form looks very good, he's only a four-year-old and he's stronger again since. I'd be very hopeful for him."

Song of Songs (2.25) brings a touch of class to the other televised race and may prove fairly treated even with his big weight. Later on the card Tony McCoy wears the same silks on Aigle d'Or (4.05), probably the value against Ashkazar, who must prove his stamina in the conditions.

The first deluges have already swept Ireland, where waterlogging caused the loss of a good card at Clonmel yesterday. Officials at Punchestown are doing their best to keep an absorbing weekend fixture afloat, but more rain is expected. In principle the star turn will be Hurricane Fly, the outstanding novice hurdler of last season who is scheduled to make his reappearance on Sunday's card.

Unfortunately his trainer Willie Mullins has again been experiencing problems with another of his best horses, Fiveforthree. "He just hasn't taken his training well," Mullins explained. "There is no further damage or injury. We have just decided it would be prudent not to continue [this season]. He won't be in training but will have light exercise. Hopefully he will have a full campaign next season, and go chasing then."

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Rossbeigh (3.35 Cheltenham) Made an encouraging return at Wexford and could be value to confirm himself happier over hurdles than he was over fences.

Next best

Garde Champetre (3.0 Cheltenham) The undisputed class act will be short odds but his enthusiasm is such that they may not be short enough.

One to watch

Lepido (G Moore) would not be the only son of Montjeu to have his quirks but has more ability than his rating, judging by the way he travelled at Lingfield on Tuesday.

Where the money's going

The Ballyfitz gamble in the Paddy Power Gold Cup continues, the sponsors now 7-1 from 10-1 – having laid the trainer 16-1 in a charity bet on Wednesday.