Somersby left flat-footed by revived Gauvain
Her best horse had been beaten again, and a wild, murky afternoon in the flatlands must have blended fairly seamlessly with her own emotional landscape. But Henrietta Knight did not have to seek far here yesterday to remember how it's an ill wind that blows no good. It was only five days previously, after all, that the horse who had just beaten Somersby dismayed his own connections with a fall at Sandown. Having duly avoided a hard race against Sizing Europe, Gauvain was able to rise from the canvas and win the Betfred Peterborough Chase – and, in the process, at least he confirmed Knight in her suspicion that Somersby nowadays requires a stiffer test of stamina.
Whether he can improve sufficiently at three miles to trouble Long Run and company at Kempton on Boxing Day remains to be seen. Having jumped and travelled well under Dominic Elsworth, Somersby was caught flat-footed when Noel Fehily kicked Gauvain for home and could only make gradual inroads as they toiled into the gale, still four-and-a-half lengths down at the post.
Knight's historic affinity with this race – once extending to eight winners in 10 years – did not prevent her champion, Best Mate himself, being turned over in the 2003 running. "It's as I said all along," Knight said. "It wasn't his race, and wasn't his course. They go flat out round those little bends, and he couldn't get into his usual rhythm. After all, the winner ran in the Tingle Creek last weekend, so he's obviously thought a two-miler."
In fairness, while she had plainly acceded to other pressures, Somersby would hardly have been sent off hot favourite had this been some kind of reckless punt. Even so, he must prove a radically different proposition over the extra half-mile in the King George if he is to make the podium, even in a field increasingly lacking depth.
As for Gauvain, he has dismantled the theory that he has to be fresh, and by proving his own stamina has entitled connections to build towards the Ryanair Chase in March. Andy Corbett, assistant trainer to Nick Williams, said: "It's not so much a question of the distance with him, as just getting him right on the day. He can be a bit of a character."
On a cheerless afternoon, only the bookmakers' digital displays seemed to obtain any kind of festive glow – especially when the odds against Hit The Headlines were tumbling before the novice hurdle. A bumper winner last season, he saw off several other likely prospects to leave his trainer in a pleasant dilemma. "He's a great big horse and we've been schooling him over fences," Nicky Henderson said. "But I couldn't find a chase anywhere before Christmas – not at a track he's going to go round, anyway. So we've come here. Poor baby, coming up the straight all on his own into the teeth of that wind. You won't see the real article until next year."
Sprinter Sacre, another very much built for fences, jumps them in public for the first time at Doncaster today. Henderson has long been salivating over Sprinter Sacre's potential as a chaser, and he was good enough over timber to finish third – despite hitting the last flight – in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Festival last season.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Scotsirish (2.20 Cheltenham) A touch of class goes a long way over the cross-country course and this one looked a smart recruit to the discipline at Punchestown last time – sufficiently so to persuade his jockey to desert Uncle Junior.
Oscargo (2.55 Cheltenham) Has clearly had his issues, being very lightly raced, but postponement of his chasing career suggests he remains ahead of his mark after an excellent handicap debut here.
One to watch
A son of Cape Cross, Trespasser (John Ferguson) became the latest contributor to his trainer's fine start in his new sideline with a striking debut in the bumper at Taunton yesterday.
Where the money's going
Tony McCoy's unexpected choice of Sunnyhillboy in the Spinal Research Atlantic 4 Gold Cup at Cheltenham tomorrow has prompted support with William Hill to 13-2 from 8-1 and he is now showing as short as 6-1 with Ladbrokes.
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