Do not be daunted by the numbers for Saturday's Tote Gold Trophy, for which 41 horses were declared yesterday. The capabilities of the leading performers are well known, the betting is wide open and the race might prove just as good a guide to Cheltenham as the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown 24 hours later. That has a 10-runner field headed by the Gold Cup hope Beef Or Salmon.
With the Champion Hurdle winner of 1997, Make A Stand, as well as Geos and Landing Light listed on the Tote Gold Trophy roll of honour, the £120,000 Newbury race is the handicap hurdle with the highest calibre field of the season. Last year Rooster Booster, now a Champion contender, divided the winner, Copeland, and third Benbyas. That pair resume rivalry on Saturday, with Copeland one of eight horses left in by Martin Pipe, shouldering top weight of 11st 12lb.
"Benbyas is in good form and we are very pleased with him," his trainer, Declan Carroll, said yesterday. "I think one of these days he will win one of these big races. Let's hope it's Saturday."
Nicky Henderson, who has won three of the last five runnings of the race, has a particularly strong hand. His three possibles are Non So, Chauvinist and Regal Exit.
Non So is favourite at 13-2 with the sponsors and 6-1 with Ladbrokes, while William Hill and Coral have Tom Taaffe's Emotional Moment, one of eight Irish-trained horses still in the contest, as 6-1 market leader even though the gelding would prefer easier going than the good ground, with good to soft patches, currently prevailing. That is expected to be dried further by strong winds as the week progresses. "Emotional Moment has run on quicker ground before, but I think his best ground is soft," Taaffe said yesterday.
Spirit Leader, who has already conducted a successful raid in Britain this season at Sandown in December, will represent Jessica Harrington. "She did a bit of work on Saturday with Moscow Flyer [a winner at Punchestown on Sunday] and she's grand today," Harrington said. "I just have to keep her ticking over."
Peter Beaumont, who saddled Jodami to take the Hennessy in three successive years, has decided against running Hussard Collonges in the Leopardstown race. "If he'd gone there and then to Cheltenham he would have had five hard races in a row and I just don't want to overdo it. He'll go straight for the Gold Cup now."
Hussard Collonges, winner of last year's Royal & SunAlliance Chase, has run three tremendous races this season without getting his head in front.
Willie Mullins will make a decision about Florida Pearl's participation later in the week. "I don't want to race him on heavy ground at this stage of the season," he said.
TOTE GOLD TROPHY (Newbury, Saturday) Tote: 13-2 Non So, 7-1 Emotional Moment, 10-1 Copeland, 12-1 Chauvinist, Spirit Leader, 14-1 Benbyas, Puntal, 16-1 others. Ladbrokes: 6-1 Non So, 7-1 Emotional Moment, 10-1 Chauvinist, 12-1 Puntal, 14-1 Benbyas, Copeland, In
Contrast, Spirit Leader, 16-1 others.
Coral: 6-1 Emotional Moment, 7-1 Non So, 10-1 Chauvinist, Puntal, 14-1 Copeland, Scolardy, 16-1 In Contrast, Quazar, Benbyas, 20-1 Gralmano, Haditovski, Giocomo, Miss Cool, Calladine, Spirit Leader, 25-1 others.
HENNESSY GOLD CUP (Leopardstown, Sunday) Cashmans: 7-4 Beef Or Salmon, 7-2 Colonel Braxton, 9-2 Florida Pearl, 5-1 Rince Ri, 6-1 Harbour Pilot, 12-1 Foxchapel King, 20-1 Macs Gildoran, 33-1 others.
Booster is praised by Williamson
Norman Williamson, the rider of Rhinestone Cowboy, yesterday nominated Rooster Booster as the horse to beat in the Champion Hurdle, despite his unconvincing victory at Sandown on Saturday.
"I know Rooster Booster wasn't pretty on Saturday," Williamson said, "but the ground was terrible and it looked as though he just idled.
Some bookmakers pushed out Rooster Booster in Champion Hurdle betting – he is a best-priced 6-1 with Ladbrokes – following Saturday's race and he has been deposed as favourite by the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Intersky Falcon, who is as low as 7-2 with William Hill. But Williamson believes it will be a different Rooster Booster at Cheltenham, where a fast pace is certain. "The quicker they go the better for him," he said.
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