Like a pair of exhausted boxers, hugging close in anticipation of the final bell, neither Jamie Spencer nor Seb Sanders could yesterday slip in the extra jab that might make all the difference. Riding in direct opposition for the first time since Friday, and the last time before Thursday, both drew a blank – leaving Spencer three ahead in the race for the championship, with just five days to go.
Sure enough, he remains favourite with the bookmakers. But he is suspended today and tomorrow, and must watch helplessly as Sanders attempts to erase the deficit with six rides at Lingfield today, and a double shift tomorrow between Nottingham and Kempton. Coral cut Sanders to 11-10 from 6-4, easing Spencer from 1-2 to 4-6.
Sanders's best ride today may be the flourishing sprinter, New York Oscar, but his mounts in both maidens set a clear standard on their best form. River Deuce improved to win in decisive fashion over course and distance last month, while a more reliable animal than Desperate Dan would be given credit for an encouraging run last time, only his third start since changing stable. And while some imagination is required to picture Almondillo winning a race, much the same could be said of the rabble against him today.
On Thursday morning, moreover, there is another potential lifeline for Sanders. Having won a photo against Spencer at Newmarket last Friday, he was aghast to see the placings reversed by the stewards after an inquiry into marginal interference. His mount's trainer, Peter Makin, has appealed and the disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority has brought forward its hearing to ensure that the matter is resolved before the protagonists cross swords for the final time at Doncaster on Saturday.
This duel has sustained the Flat season through a period when it is normally hopelessly moribund, and now it seems that even the steeplechasers – who have been in such haste to ignite their new campaign – are making a respectful retreat.
It had been expected that both Voy Por Ustedes and Twist Magic would begin their journey towards the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the William Hill Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter today. In the event, however, neither was declared yesterday morning, on account of the fast ground.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Twist Magic, has already seen his champion, Kauto Star, produce a drowsy performance on his reappearance at Aintree nine days ago. That was Kauto Star's first defeat (bar a fall at Cheltenham) since Monkerhostin beat him in this same Exeter race two years ago. Aware that Twist Magic would have to carry top weight today, in the absence of Voy Por Ustedes, Nicholls decided that the horse should seek a gentler start to his first season outside novice company.
He will not have made his decision lightly, having long had this target in mind, and considering Twist Magic very effective when fresh from a break. After all, the only alternatives he could suggest yesterday were a valuable handicap hurdle at Cheltenham on Sunday week, and a graduation race at Kempton.
Twist Magic volunteered himself as an obvious threat to Voy Por Ustedes when beating Fair Along by five lengths at Aintree in April, only his fourth start over fences. Fair Along had also finished second in the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham – where Twist Magic had fallen two out, still on the bridle – and will serve as an instructive proxy today, albeit he faces just four rivals.
They include Pablo Du Charmil, who showed a natural flair for fences in the novice chase at this meeting last year, and impressed in two further wins before disappointing against seasoned rivals at the Festival.
l Paul Cole's unbeaten Pippa Greene has been installed as the 7-1 favourite by Coral bookmakers for the totesport November Handicap after 41 entries were received for the end-of-season feature at Doncaster. The Galileo colt is three from three so far in his fledgling career and this would undoubtedly be his toughest test to date. George Margarson has also declared Young Mick as he continues on the comeback trail following 12 months off the track.
Nap: Boxhall(Catterick 4.10)
NB: The Crazy Parson (Exeter 4.20)