Kim Bailey may just be unique among West Country residents in finding a silver lining among the unremitting rainclouds.
The trainer's Gold Cup candidate Harry Topper is a horse who flourishes in the mud and duly did so at Newbury yesterday, making light of heavy underfoot conditions to take the Denman Chase, the domestic season's final recognised trial for the Cheltenham showpiece. The seven-year-old, ridden by Jason Maguire, came in 25 lengths clear of the favourite, Al Ferof.
Whether Harry Topper turns out at the Festival next month will depend entirely on a continuation of bad weather. Bailey, based in Andoversford, adores the gelding and has guided his career patiently, but he is perfectly and frankly aware of his limitations against fleeter, more athletic types on more conventional ground.
"He's not a natural jumper," he said, "or even a natural racehorse. But he has the heart of a lion, and if the ground stays like this we'd have to have a go at the Gold Cup. But if the ground was even good to soft there'd be no point; he's just not quick enough."
Harry Topper remains a Gold Cup outsider – 33-1 in some bookmakers' lists – but it should not be forgotten that Bailey won the Cheltenham crown 19 years ago with another classy mudlark, Master Oats. "They have the same sort of attitude, as tough as they come," he said.
Al Ferof was vying for fourth favouritism for the Gold Cup, behind Bobs Worth, Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card and alongside First Lieutenant, but is now about 25-1 after being left trailing in yesterday's three-mile test, and his Cheltenham target remains undecided. "On that sort of ground he would have no chance in a Gold Cup, but if it stays like it is then the Champion Chase would not be the most stupid idea," said his trainer, Paul Nicholls, who is also responsible for Silviniaco Conti.
The reigning two-mile king, Sprinter Sacre, yesterday made his first appearance on a racecourse since suffering his cardiac problems, a walk around the Newbury parade ring all part of his rehabilitation before the defence of his Champion Chase title four weeks on Wednesday. "I'd be happy with where we are now," said his trainer, Nicky Henderson, who plans a more strenuous track awayday this month for the eight-year-old, "and we'd be optimistic."
The day's richest contest, the Betfair Hurdle, went to 33-1 shot Splash Of Ginge, giving apprentice Ryan Hatch the biggest prize of his career. The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained six-year-old was never out of the first two as he beat Dell' Arca (15-2), Irish Saint (6-1 favourite) and Cheltenian (8-1) in the two-mile handicap.