Top Cees out of tune with punters

RACING: Fallon finds the key to the Chester Cup winner but hits the wrong note with racegoers
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The Independent Online
The reception said it all. When Top Cees was led in after his victory in yesterday's Chester Cup it was as if he was a dying comedian on the working-men's-club circuit. The crowd reaction was no reaction.

Racegoers had not forgotten that Top Cees was the horse who was ridden with the utmost tenderness at Newmarket last month when a beaten favourite. Yesterday he was an animal guided with some force by Kieran Fallon to a five-length win.

Punters do not like to see this and registered their disapproval on course with silence. Off track the response was more vociferous and many national newspapers fielded disgruntled calls.

Given this atmosphere, the stewards met to discuss whether an inquiry should be held. The Jockey Club and appointees do not have a great history of self-criticism and as Top Cees' Newmarket run had been investigated by both the local stewards on the day and then in London there was little prospect that the case would be opened again. Anthony Arkwright, the handicapper on course, said the horse's improvement at the Roodeye could be explained by the different distance and course.

These factors did indeed provide dramatic improvement. Thunderheart and Well Beloved, who finished ahead of Top Cees at Newmarket, were 12th and ninth respectively in the Cup. On that form, the winner was about a stone better horse yesterday.

Fallon, who has admitted that his previous ride was one of his less inspired efforts, was a rather sheepish figure when he discussed his rather more vigorous performance yesterday. "I was very confident from three out," he said, which was presumably a reference to furlongs rather than days. "The horse travelled well and when that happens the gaps tend to come. They went quicker at Newmarket and we were flat to the boards, but here it's an easier track."

The winning stable, that of Lynda Ramsden, is one of those more closely scrutinised by officials and backers alike, thanks largely to the presence of the trainer's husband, Jack, a notable gambler himself, in the set- up. Jack insisted he had not backed Top Cees yesterday. He said he had supported Harlestone Brook, the runner-up.

And when suggestions of skulduggery were introduced he got rather cross. "We only decided to run in the Chester Cup after Newmarket," he said to head off those who had the word coup in their minds. "It was because he stayed on so well at Newmarket that we decided to come here and you only find these things out by running them. You can't try them over two and a quarter miles at racing speed at home."

Lynda Ramsden has been surprised by the media space her horse has taken up. "There has been almost as much written about him as Celtic Swing," she said, and talked of the unfortunate run at Newmarket. "He came too late and got boxed in. Kieran has said his sorrys. It was a day when it just went wrong."

Yesterday, there were no such problems. "Kieran said he was switched- off and he could have put him anywhere in the race."

Top Cees, she revealed, is capable of erratic behaviour. "He's a funny horse," she said. "He's odd, but then he's just a horse.

"Half the time he doesn't want to go on the gallops. He can be different on different days. He whipped round yesterday on the gallops and dropped the lad. And then he springs these surprises on us." And on a few punters as well.