Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rooster Is the Call to Outgun the Cowboy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rooster Is the Call to Outgun the Cowboy

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM CUNNINGHAM

BY HALF past three tomorrow, the racing world will know whether Rhinestone Cowboy is the new Istabraq or just another imitation diamond. If ante-post money talks then Jonjo O'Neill's gelding is the natural heir to the triple champion, but ignore the hype in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle and take an each-way punt on Rooster Booster.

The case for Rhinestone Cowboy is simple, according to those who have backed him down from 16-1 to 9-4 over the last three months.

It runs as follows. Here is a horse who was fast enough to lead some of the world's best Flat horses in his early days at Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard and has never come off the bridle in four runs over hurdles.

Add on the fact that he's trained by the charismatic O'Neill and it's hardly surprising to see him quoted as market leader. But is he a betting proposition? Some pundits seeking chinks in his armour have pointed to his inexperience, while others have hinted at potential flaws in his jumping.

And yet the most important question the favourite must answer relates to whether he's really good enough to beat the very best.

Granted, he had bundles in hand in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last time but, with the current champion Hors La Loi III out of sorts, he only had his fellow novice Thisthatandtother to beat.

A clearer view of that form will emerge once Thisthatandtother contests tomorrow's Supreme Novices' Hurdle. But until then, Rhinestone Cowboy is best judged on the one occasion when Norman Williamson had to ask him to dig deep.

It came in the Champion Bumper on the Wednesday of last year's Festival. To his credit, Rhinestone Cowboy found plenty in going down narrowly to Pizarro, but he didn't produce the killer turn of foot his supporters were hoping for.

In short, he's well worth taking on at skinny odds.

Rooster Booster's remarkable progress since winning the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson here last year marks him out as the ideal alternative.

You could spend from now until next year trying to pin down the exact reasons why a horse who suffered 16 consecutive defeats prior to that Festival victory should suddenly blossom in the way that this striking grey has. …

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