One of the weekend's welcome sights was the presence of Henrietta Knight back in the winner's circle after a high-profile contest. The heady days of Best Mate are still fondly recalled at West Lockinge and elsewhere, but increasingly distantly; it is more than five years now since the last of his three Gold Cups. On Saturday, though, Knight produced a fine young chasing prospect in Somersby, winner of the Henry VII Novices' Chase at Sandown, and this afternoon returns to Huntingdon to stoke the fire of a few more warm memories.
Knight has won the Peterborough Chase, easily the highlight of the little Cambridgeshire track's calendar, no fewer than seven times: thrice with Edredon Bleu, once each with Best Mate and Impek, and twice with Racing Demon, who takes the field again this afternoon, two years after his latest victory.
The nine-year-old is on a comeback mission, it being 593 days since he was last seen in public. His early career and then his injury-enforced absence are a parable for the fragility of hopes pinned on horses.
On the sorrowful day four years ago at Exeter when Best Mate died, Racing Demon, with impeccable timing, provided the one ray of light by winning the very next race. He duly progressed to become one of that season's brightest young chasing recruits but, in the end, physical and mental flaws meant he could never quite wear the mantle of the "new Best Mate".
The talented but fragile gelding is owned by Camilla Radford, whose red-starred green colours are also carried by Somersby, seemingly a much more robust and straightforward character to dream about.
At his best, though, Racing Demon was not far short of the best, as his third place to Kauto Star and Exotic Dancer in the King George VI Chase three years ago indicated. With typical patience and thoroughness, Knight has give him all the time he has needed to recover, but today will be testing both for horse and trainer, who gets twitchy watching her favourites run even at the best of times.
"We're excited to be back with him," she said yesterday, "and he's very well and ready to run. And he does like Huntington; a flat right-handed track suits him best. The opposition is pretty stout, it looks a very good race, even though he does get weight off some of them."
The welcome decision to restore the Grade Two race, worth £40,000 to the winner, to its traditional midweek slot has ensured a high-class field of seven. Like Knight, those in charge of some of the opposition were in talismanic mode, playing down their chances.
Evan Williams, who sends the Charlie Hall Chase winner Deep Purple to the fray, is perfectly aware of the 10lb the eight-year-old must concede to Racing Demon and three other rivals. "It's difficult," he said. "We were thinking about going straight to the King George, but that is equally a big mountain to climb.
"The one thing about him is that he's very adaptable – he's won Grade Twos up to three miles and a furlong and been placed in Grade Ones over two miles – and he's genuine and very tough. Let's hope he can keep raising the bar as he's been doing."
One man not afraid of optimism is Jonjo O'Neill, responsible for Albertas Run. The eight-year-old, last year's King George runner-up, bounced back to his best to win at Ascot last month. "If he runs up to that form again," O'Neill said , "he'll take all the beating. And he's in good nick at home."
Today's favourite is likely to be Tidal Bay, who accounted for all bar Monet's Garden on his seasonal return at Aintree in October and appears to have benefited from routine surgery to repair a defective airway during the summer.
Of this afternoon's runners, Albertas Run, Deep Purple, Racing Demon and Tartak are among the 20 entries remaining in the King George on Boxing Day after yesterday's latest declaration stage. Kauto Star, going for an unprecedented fourth win in a row in the William Hill-sponsored Kempton showpiece, is the odds-on favourite.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Sagalyrique (3.20 Taunton) French hurdles winner who should improve for his chasing debut with cheekpieces and a step up in distance to aid his cause.
Valentine Vic (1.20 Taunton) Has already won two point-to-points over today's trip and a run in a bumper last month should have set him up for his first try over hurdles.
One to watch
Admiral Cochrane (W Jarvis) who quickened smartly after running into traffic problems, was value for more than his narrow winning margin at Wolverhampton last week.
Where the money's going
Flintoff has been cut to 16-1 from 20-1 for the Welsh National by Stan James.
Chris McGrath's Nap
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