Somersby following in Best Mate's path
HENRIETTA KNIGHT insists she watched every one of her champion Best Mate's races during the gelding's glorious three-year reign as Gold Cup title-holder, and she plans to be equally attentive when her new star, Somersby, has a crack at today's Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.
Sadly, Best Mate collapsed and died 19 months after his third Gold Cup triumph, but it became part of legend that when he was running, Knight would become so nervous that she set off and hid in the nearest toilet.
"That's a complete myth," she assured me yesterday. "I watched every single one of Best Mate's races, and anyway, I can't think of a worse place to hide than the loo."
When Best Mate was in his prime, the trainer often drew criticism for not running her champion enough; she argued that the more miles a horse put on the clock, the less likely he was to last. Now, even Paul Nicholls seems to be following a similarly light campaign with Kauto Star.
Best Mate won 14 races and finished second seven times, from 22 starts. The only occasion on which he finished out of the first two was when he met his untimely end in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in November 2005.
Somersby has now emerged as Knight's new hope for the top. The six-year-old is an impressive stamp of a horse, just like Best Mate was, and he is another destined to show his best when stepping up in trip, to three miles, next season.
Knight sticks firmly to her theory that exposing young, inexperienced horses to the rigours of the three-mile RSA Chase can often ruin them. For this reason, she sees the two-mile Arkle Trophy as the preferred option for her top novice chasers.
"The RSA can be a gruelling test and it can drain a young horse, unless of course you have a real three-miler. It's a pity they don't have a two-and-a-half-mile novice chase," she added.
Somersby ran with great promise at last year's festival. He finished third to Go Native and Medermit in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and the fact that the latter pair occupy the first and third lines of betting for today's Champion Hurdle will have been noted by many.
One senses the pressure is starting to mount again, but the trainer is playing it down.
"You can say I'm hopeful and apprehensive," she said on the eve of this big assignment. But the loo attendants needn't worry, the trainer will be watching with the rest of us. (© Daily Telegraph, London)