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Tuesday, February 1, 2005


Trainer Francois Doumen today reported Baracouda to be "firing on all cylinders" ahead of the horse's bid to land a third Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday, March 17.

The 10-year-old, who won the staying hurdle championship race in 2002 and 2003 but finished second to Iris's Gift in last year's event, worked at Chantilly, France, this morning on the Cheltenham Racecourse press day.

Doumen said: "The horse is so well today that I wish Cheltenham was this week - he's never been so well. At the moment he is a bit too fresh but this is how I want him. He's getting older but is ageing positively and is getting better.

"He has had two races this season and I've just let him tick over. I will give him one more serious workout although I haven't decided when. If I have the pleasure to win, it will be the first time I can collect the trophy - in the past I've been saddling a horse in the totesport Gold Cup."

Following the retirement of Doumen's son Thierry, champion jockey Tony McCoy will again be in the saddle at Cheltenham and the trainer added: "It is not an easy job for Tony because Baracouda is a bit of a special horse, Thierry got to know him well and now Tony is learning.

"I know we have to give Tony allowances and next time he'll do even better. I've given him some leads but he has to discover the horse for himself and Tony is a real pro. The horse is as he is and he won't change at this age."

Baracouda is evens favourite for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle with the sponsor and Doumen added: "From what I saw at Cheltenham on Saturday, his major opposition seemed to run disappointingly and, at the moment, you need another real opponent. Every year I go I find it harder to win at Cheltenham - it is never an easy job and it gets more and more difficult.

"Baracouda has to do it but I think he is the best horse."

Doumen admitted that he has still not ruled out sending the 10-year-old over fences. He said: "I discuss it with J P [McManus] and Frank Berry every year and we ask what could be beating him if he carries on hurdling. I have schooled him and was very happy with the fences he jumped but we haven't made a decision and that's it. I will again discuss it with J P for next season but nothing is decided."

Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham's Managing Director, said: "It was very encouraging to see both the horse and the trainer in such good form and there is every reason to believe Baracouda can come back and regain his title in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at The Festival."


The £32,000 Grade Two Totty Construction Towton Novices' Chase (2.30pm), run over three miles and one furlong at Wetherby on Saturday (February 5), attracted 12 high-class novice chasers at yesterday's five-day entry stage.

Sara Bradstock, wife and assistant trainer to Mark Bradstock, revealed: "King Harald is going to run in the Totty Construction Towton Novices' Chase at the weekend."

The seven-year-old got off the mark over fences on his last start in a three-mile Newbury handicap chase on January 12, keeping on gamely on the run-in to just collar The Bandit by a short-head, the pair clear.

Prior to that he had gone down by the same margin to Hidden Bounty in a novices' chase at Newcastle the previous month.

"King Harald has come out of Newbury very, very well and we are hoping that he has improved - he's not been very quick in learning the whole game but he seems to just be improving with every run and is a really nice horse," she continued.

"We are going to Wetherby because the owner [Piers Pottinger and P B-J Partnership] wants to run at the Cheltenham Festival and so we thought we better just give him a bit of practice at taking on the best.

"If we come and run really well in the Towton, we'll be going for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at Cheltenham, if we don't run so well we'll go for the Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase instead. A bit of cut in the ground will suit him."

Ollie Magern, one of the top novices who unseated his rider at the fourth in the Pillar Property Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday, has also been entered.

King Harald could line-up against the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Alexanderthegreat and Whitford Don. The former won a novices' chase at Exeter in November, while Whitford Don improved on his debut second over the larger obstacles when beating Sonnant by three-quarters of a length in a beginners' chase at Warwick on New Year's Eve.

Sue Smith is another trainer to be doubly represented, having entered both St Matthew and Undeniable, while Vanda's Choice and Sonevafushi are also in the care of women trainers, Lucinda Russell and Venetia Williams respectively.

Tribal Venture is a further possible, with the course and distance winner having been successful yesterday in a novices' chase at Kempton for trainer Ferdy Murphy.

This prestigious contest, the feature event at Wetherby on Saturday, has been won by some fine chasers in recent years including subsequent totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Mr Mulligan in 1996.

Noel Chance's charge proved 15 lengths too powerful for Call It A Day at Wetherby and won chasing's top race the following year.

The 1998 Towton renewal went to the David Nicholson-trained Escartefigue, who easily got the better of Radical Choice by 14 lengths. Two outing later he found only Florida Pearl too good in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Two seasons later Arctic Camper entered the winner's enclosure for Venetia Williams after being ridden clear by Adrian Maguire to beat Beau by eight lengths. The following year Arctic Camper was successful in the Grade Two Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow.

Keen Leader was a popular Towton winner in 2003 when easily justifying odds-on favouritism for Jonjo O'Neill by 24 lengths. He is another winner to have gone on to big-race success, this time in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock later in the same year.

Sue Smith kept the Totty Construction Towton Novices' Chase in Yorkshire last year, when Royal Emperor showed his class to prevail by 20 lengths from Native Emperor. He also performed with credit on his next start in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase when runner-up to Rule Supreme.

James Sanderson, Wetherby's chief executive, described the current going as: "Soft.

Essentially it's not going to be a bad week, with fairly typical seasonal weather - there are going to be continuing wintry showers on and off interspersed with sunshine pretty much throughout the week.

"With this forecast in mind, I wouldn't expect the going to change dramatically either way and we may dry marginally and end up being Good to Soft, Soft in places come Saturday.

"We have saved a bit of ground where we can which we are releasing for this meeting so there will be some fresh ground, particularly on the bends."

The principal event is well supported by the £20,000-added totesport.com Handicap Chase (3.05pm) over an extended two miles and four furlongs which has received 17 possibles.

These include last year's Towton hero Royal Emperor and Wetherby specialist Mister McGoldrick, who has won six of his seven starts at the West Yorkshire track including the Grade Two skybet.com Castleford Chase on the third day of the year.

This Sue Smith-trained pair could face last year's Grand National hero Amberleigh House as well as Ballybough Rasher, trained by Howard Johnson, the winner of the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in 2003.

The other sponsored event on Saturday's card is the £10,000-added toteexacta Handicap Hurdle (3.40pm) over two miles with 19 entries while the Wilmot-Smith Memorial Cup (4.10pm) is the first hunter chase of the year and could see top chaser Legal Right, now with Lucinda Russell, return to action. Racing starts at 1.25pm.


At its monthly meeting yesterday, the BHB Board reaffirmed its view that it had taken the appropriate decision in December 2004 to suspend the Owners' Premium Scheme from the start of 2005, given the necessity to take immediate steps to reduce expenditure in the light of the ECJ Judgement.

BHB has, over recent weeks, participated in an open dialogue with the Levy Board Executive in order to ensure a co-ordinated approach to expenditure plans. The Levy Board has requested that BHB outline its own spending priorities for 2005 and 2006, which will contribute to the Levy Board's planning process in advance of its annual strategy meeting in March.

At yesterday's meeting, the BHB Board decided that the Levy Board should be requested to provide £700,000 in funding to enable the Owners' Premium Scheme to operate on a reduced scale in 2005, with the inclusion of backdated payments from 1st January.

It was also agreed to make a request for Levy Board funding for the Scheme on a similarly reduced basis in 2006, while reiterating its own commitment to reinstating the Scheme in full in 2006 should BHB's own financial circumstances permit.

The Board was of the view, with the full support of the ROA and TBA, that, with other spending priorities, it was inappropriate to expect the Levy Board to fund the Scheme at its originally planned level of 25% premiums and, in certain cases, 50% - expected to cost £3.2m in 2005 - but that it would be desirable for smaller premiums of 5% and, for National Hunt fillies and mares, 10% to continue to be paid.

BHB Chief Executive Greg Nichols said: "In BHB's current financial circumstances it continues to be the correct, albeit very regrettable, decision that the Scheme was suspended. However we have always said that Owners' Premiums are important to British Racing and that we would be willing to look at ways in which the Scheme could continue to be run with alternative funding sources.

"We look forward to further discussions with the Levy Board about a number of areas of possible expenditure in 2005 and 2006, of which a reduced-scale Owners' Premium Scheme will be one. The maintenance of Racing's infrastructure in these difficult times remains a key policy objective."

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