Bold-Jumping Transcend Can Lord It over Kingscliff; Howard Johnson's Grey Can Make It a Dark Day for the Favourite in the Big Race at Haydock Tomorrow, Reports Graham Cunningham

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Byline: GRAHAM CUNNINGHAM

TOMORROW is put up or shut up time as regards Kingscliff 's Cheltenham hopes. Robert Alner's giant gelding has to bounce back to his best in order to re-establish himself at the head of the Gold Cup market, but Lord Transcend can have the final word in what looks bound to be a stamina-sapping Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.

Kingscliff 's presence at the head of the weights means a small field will face the starter for this [pounds sterling]75,000 contest, and several of them look difficult to fancy given that they are forced to carry considerably more than the official handicapper feels they deserve.

Gruelling conditions have been known to offset such concerns but this race should revolve around the two horses at the top of the card.

Huge things have been expected of Kingscliff since he burst on to the hunter chasing scene three years ago and, with a few notable blips, he has gone a long way in living up to the hype.

His commanding win in an Ascot handicap despite a broken rein late in 2003 springs to mind. So does his strong-finishing second behind Kicking King in the 2004 King George at Kempton, while his decisive defeat of Beef Or Salmon in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last November proved beyond doubt that he is among the best of the current chasing crop.

And yet there are also several negatives to factor into the Kingscliff equation. Excuses were offered when he was beaten at odds-on in this race two years ago, while he checked out pretty tamely when Kicking King upped the ante in the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown last April.

Another laboured effort followed after an early blunder in Kicking King's second King George at Sandown four weeks ago, but the bottom line is that even Kingscliff 's very best might not be good enough if Lord Transcend is on song.

Howard Johnson's grey has been campaigned even more sparingly than Kingscliff. A Grade Two success on this course proved the highlight of a light hurdling career, while a fourth in Celestial Gold's Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in 2004 was a heroic effort considering he was taking on rivals who were vastly more battle-hardened over fences. …