Magazine article The Spectator

Festival Tips

Magazine article The Spectator

Festival Tips

Article excerpt

I have long felt that one of the most underestimated training performances of recent years was Noel Chance's victory with Mr Mulligan in the Cheltenham Gold Cup of 1997. True, he was given the Guinness Pure Genius award. But we couldn't be sure whether that was for training the hatrack of a horse or for his contribution to their profits over the years. Mr Mulligan, a washy chestnut with a cream blaze who carried his head to one side having broken his neck as a novice, had legs as brittle as the ice-cream cones with which his owner had made his fortune. Having suffered a haematoma in a tumble at the last in the King George VI chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and ligament trouble too, he did not run again before Cheltenham. It was always touch and go whether they got him there. As Noel says, risking double washing-up duties, 'If I'd felt my wife's legs as often as I felt Mr Mulligan's she'd have been well pleased.' But just days before the race they galloped him at Newbury and were convinced he was ready. And in the event he strode on relentlessly up the hill to a comfortable victory.

The sad thing was that the Gold Cup success was the pinnacle for owner Michael Worcester, who owned Noel's stable too. He lost interest and cut back, and two years later Noel was down to a dozen horses and just four wins for the season. Only when he won the Sun Alliance Novices Chase last year with Looks Like Trouble did the world wake up to the fact that Mr Mulligan's success was no fluke. Since then the orders have been coming in nicely. Noel is doing well with decent horses, training 30-plus from the Saxon House yard in Lambourn. And though he has the fearsome See More Business and probably the exciting novice Gloria Victis to beat, I still see Looks Like Trouble at 7-1 as the best value on next week's Festival card.

I would not put anyone off See More Business, the defending champion, who is at his nippiest when really fit and well and is currently said to be biting anyone who comes near. Trained up the precipice behind Paul Nicholls's stable, he is a magnificent galloping machine with a real will to win. Gloria Victis is a great prospect for the future but will have to improve even on his exhilarating Kempton performance. And we should not ignore the claims of Mark Pitman's ever-improving Hennessy winner Ever Blessed now they seem to have the measure of his shoulder problem. But I will still take Looks Like Trouble to beat them.

In all the fuss about the historical frolics which Tallulah Bankhead may or may not have had with Eton boys, I noticed that the formidable lady once declared that only good girls kept diaries: bad girls don't have the time. If the same applies to the masculine gender I must have led a better life than some politicians would surmise. …

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