Have Faith in Bishop's Star

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM CUNNINGHAM

IF it's Saturday, then it must be time for messrs Pipe, Nicholls and Hobbs to mop up the big races.

That's the view many punters seem to take nowadays, but a near neighbour of the 'Somerset Mafia' can upstage the big names tomorrow when Ashley Brook tackles the [pounds sterling]50,000 totesport Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown.

Former jump jockey Kevin Bishop trains a small team near Bridgwater and, with relatively little fanfare, has done extremely well with this likeable chestnut.

Two wins from five starts over hurdles represented a solid start to his jumping career last season, but three runs over fences this term have shown that chasing is his real game.

The first came at Exeter, where he jumped boldly in front before quickening well clear, while it was a similar story at Newton Abbot later in November.

But the performance which really marks Ashley Brook out as a strong contender for tomorrow's race came at Uttoxeter two weeks ago.

Granted, he lost his unbeaten record to My Will and, on the face of it, he shouldn't reverse the form on 3lb worse terms. However, Ashley Brook didn't seem suited by the steady early gallop there and, despite rallying powerfully under Rodi Greene, the Nichollstrained winner just held him off.

Greene feels Ashley Brook is better than he showed at Uttoxeter and is adamant this extra half mile will be ideal.

And his views look well founded. Grade 1 races are meant to be tough, and this one is no exception.

My Will, El Vaquero and See You Sometime will all have plenty of supporters, but Ashley Brook's fluent jumping and willingness to battle will make him a tough nut to crack up the Sandown hill.

Twenty five horses were entered for the totescoop6 Handicap Hurdle at the fiveday stage, but the sponsors report that punters have only wanted to know one of them.

The Pipe-trained Liberman is the beast in question, and the 9-2 available on Tuesday disappeared quicker than Arsenal's title hopes.

As a former Festival Bumper winner who beat last week's Cleeve Hurdle hero Patriarch Express at Market Rasen last time out, it hardly takes Einstein to work out why Liberman has been punted on. …