It is going to be a long, cold winter for Alan Berry as he lingers under the suspicion of being one of the racefixers City of London police believe are operating within racing.
The Cockerham trainer talked yesterday of the trauma of last Wednesday, when officers arrived at his Moss Side stables in Lancashire just as he was preparing to drive a horsebox and three runners to Southwell. Berry was arrested on a charge of conspiracy to defraud and later bailed. Police spent much of the day taking items from the trainer's home and office.
It was a grisly day in the history of Moss Side, a yard which had come to represent what hard work could achieve in racing. The premises were formerly the property of Berry's father, Jack, who progressed from selling rabbits at Leeds market to become one of the leading trainers in the North before retiring with over 1,500 winners to his name.
Now the suggestion is of the losers who might come out of the yard, Berry and the jockey Paul Bradley and farrier Steve O'Sullivan, who were arrested the same morning, taking the total number in this enquiry to 25. Berry will have to wait until April, when he is bailed to report to police, to pull his name from the mire. The 41-year-old may have felt a sense of déjà vu yesterday as he saddled his first runners since at the Nottinghamshire track.
"It was a shock," he said. "Nothing like that has ever happened to me before. It wasn't very nice, but you've just got to keep your head down and keep going. I was on my way to Southwell. The police were quite helpful and let me find somebody to take the box to the races. They were only doing their job. I suppose I was hoping it was all over, but hopefully it will be when I return to the police station at the end of April.
"It only happened a few days ago but people have been grand. It's just been a little bit inconvenient though, not having my mobile phone or the computer in the office. You've just got to keep on going."
Saturday's Bonusprint Gold Cup at Cheltenham promises to be a microcosm of jumps racing as a whole, such is its domination by the big three Somerset trainers. Martin Pipe will run either Our Vic or Celestial Gold, Paul Nicholls saddles Thisthatandother, while Philip Hobbs will be reliant on both Monkerhostin and Farmer Jack.
Monkerhostin would appear to be Hobbs's leading hope after the seven-year-old finished third to Celestial Gold and Thisthatandtother in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Prestbury Park last month. The winner's subsequent victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup makes that look notable form.
"Monkerhostin has got to have a very decent chance and is off a potentially lenient handicap mark compared to his hurdle rating," Hobbs said. "However, we thought that in the Paddy Power and, although he ran well, he didn't win. He must have a decent chance this weekend, though."
Hobbs was equally complimentary about his Rooster Booster, who takes in an old favourite on Saturday in the Bula Hurdle, a contest he won en route to hurdling's crown in 2002. All tactical options have already been considered.
"Ideally, we would like a strong gallop, but he has won making all of the running, so if there isn't a pace we will have to think about doing that," the trainer said. "But, at the same time, if there is a good strong gallop it will suit him better."
The grey is said to be in the pink after his seasonal reappearance, a fourth in the Greatwood Hurdle in the Cotswolds. "He was pretty fit when he ran last time at Cheltenham, but I hope he might have improved a little bit for that. He has a very good chance," Hobbs added.
Rooster Booster will face a maximum of 10 rivals, including Flame Creek, who will be having his first run for 321 days. The versatile eight-year-old has not been seen on course since returning with a cold from the Irish Champion Hurdle in January. "If he runs well this weekend he will be staying hurdling or, if not, he will go chasing, but I couldn't be happier with him," Noel Chance, his trainer, said.
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