Stravinsky Dance team face the music

Jockey faces backlash as mare could miss big target over clash of race timings
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Ante-post punters are prepared to accept not getting a run for their money, or even losing it. A cancellation because of bad weather, an injury to a horse is fine, all part of the nature of the long-range gamble. But to miss out because an amateur jockey withdraws his horse because he can't get to the track in time to ride it – even in his hired helicopter – is, apparently, unacceptable.

Yesterday 27-year-old businessman Sam Waley-Cohen found himself the target of opprobrium after his remarks about the possible non-participation of his family's colourbearer Stravinsky Dance in the Totesport Trophy at Newbury on Saturday. The mare has long been prominent in the market for the two-mile handicap, one of the most competitive betting contests of the hurdles season.

Waley-Cohen had planned to ride the most exciting prospect among the string who carry his wealthy father Robert's brown-and-orange silks, the star novice chaser Long Run, at Warwick and then dash by air to partner Stravinsky Dance at the Berkshire track. But a late alteration to the programme at Newbury to accommodate TV schedules left only 50 minutes between the races.

"They've changed the wretched timings," said the rider, "and it's very frustrating. I will definitely ride at Warwick, definitely won't get off Long Run. We'll have to see about Stravinsky Dance but I suspect if I can't ride she won't run. We have to make that decision closer to the race but I suspect the inclination is to not run her."

His comments lit a blue touchpaper among the sport's chatrooms, with "spoilt brat" a common rebuke and those outraged by Waley-Cohen's attitude outweighing those who stuck up for the family's undeniable right to manage their own affairs.

The relationship between owners, whose desire to compete their horses against others for fun or profit or both is the very foundation of the game, and punters, whose financial input is necessary for its survival, is symbiotic but sometimes strained, occasionally with reason. But this time it does seem harsh, even petty, to criticise a man for abandoning a long-planned strategy in the face of a set of moved goalposts.

The weather may yet resolve the situation if this week's cold snap develops as forecast and one or both meetings are lost. The first choice for Long Run, one of the leading fancies for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival next month, is the Grade Two Kingmaker Chase at Warwick but he is also entered in a lesser race on the Newbury card.

Frost covers have been deployed at Newbury to protect the track ahead of Saturday's marquee fixture, which features the Cheltenham preps of the two Paul Nicholls stars, Denman in the Aon Chase and Master Minded in the Game Spirit Chase. Neither is likely to face many rivals; both races were reopened for entries until this morning in an effort to attract more.

Tony McCoy, scheduled to ride Denman in the Gold Cup next month, will sit on him for the first time on Saturday. "It will be invaluable experience," said Nicholls yesterday, "and if the meeting is lost, then he'll definitely have a racecourse gallop somewhere so Tony can ride him."

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Do It For Dalkey (Sedgefield 3.40) Seemed to have put physical problems behind him when getting off the mark at Carlisle in November. His dam finished second in a Scottish National so today's marathon trip should suit.

*Next best

Aviador (Market Rasen 4.30)

Finished well off a slow pace in a shorter all-weather bumper on his debut and can put that experience to good use in more testing conditions.

*One to watch

Gone To Lunch (J Scott), unplaced on Saturday, is dropping in the weights and may come good over marathon trips.

*Where the money's going

Hidden Universe, perceived as Dermot Weld's second string for the Cheltenham Bumper is 8-1 from 10s with Ladbrokes.

*Chris McGrath's Nap

Loveinthesand (Southwell 3.20).