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Record with a difference

In the saddle

PUNCHESTOWN'S historic La Touche Cup is a mind boggling four-and-a-quarter mile mixture of Aintree, the Pardubice, Badminton, Hickstead and Cheltenham's cross-country course.

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Anyone suggesting the race now would certainly be told to knock off two miles, level out the bends, flatten the banks and sanitise some of the more bizarre looking obstacles around the course.

The horses have to clamber over banks, leap over ditches, skip through hedges, knock the top off dry-stane dykes and negotiate other strange hurdles and fences while cornering like greyhounds as the track twists and turns like a buckled version of Scalextric.

Last Thursday's latest renewal saw trainer Enda Bolger capture the cup for an astonishing 10th consecutive year, the 14-year-old Cheltenham cross country specialist Spot Thedifference clearing the 29 obstacles quickest to repeat his 2004 win under jockey John Thomas (JT) McNamara.

As well as Bolger winning 10 on the trot, McNamara was riding his fourth winner in six years. Like Spot Thedifference, Good Step also won twice for Bolger in 2005 and 2006, while the trainer's first five successes in this amazing sequence came with Risk Of Thunder between 1997 and 2002 (there was no race in 2001 due to foot and mouth).

Throw in the fact that the Sean Connery-owned Risk Of Thunder also won the race in each of the two seasons prior to joining Bolger and you have a daisy chain stretching back to 1995. This year's winner could even come back in 2008 as a 15-year-old while Thursday's runner-up, Freneys Well, a seven-year-old also trained by Bolger, will also be back a year older and wiser.

Indeed, if Nina Carberry had made up her ground on Freneys Well as quickly as the eventual winner did she would probably have spoiled the favourite backers' party and it must be said her riding on this occasion bore little resemblance to the balls of steel effort she gave Heads Onthe Ground to win the Cross Country at this year's Cheltenham Festival.

Whether it's Carberry or McNamara who gets the leg up on the stable's "expected" next season, this remarkable modern-day winning sequence in the same race will take some beating whenever it eventually ends.

There have been few comparable records since 1945 but the most recent was set in France. That was when the Bernard Secly-trained Al Capone II (a full brother to 1994 Gold Cup winner The Fellow) won the Prix La Haye Jousselin (a Grade One chase) seven consecutive times from 1993, before finishing a close second in a bid for an eight-timer in 2000.

Gods Solution won the same sprint handicap at Catterick six years out of seven from 1985 for David Barron and Further Flight won five Jockey Club Gold Cups at Newmarket for Barry Hills from 1991, but Bolger's record in the La Touche Cup looks unlikely to be broken any time soon.

Adagio on song LOOKING at the records of the trainers likely to have runners heading for Saturday's Stan James 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Sir Michael Stoute has a 5-4 lead over Aidan O'Brien going into the season's first Classic race. Tucked in behind in third is Richard Hannon on three with Barry Hills on two.

Hannon recorded his first 2000 Guineas win back in 1973 with Mon Fils and while Stoute was 12 years later with Shadeed, O'Brien has been doing all of his best work on the Rowley Mile in more recent times, winning three of the last five and four of the last nine. The Ballydoyle pecking order is yet to be finalised but there's no doubting the Stoute challenger.

Stoute's last 2000 Guineas winner was Golan in 2001 but in Adagio this year, he has a colt which might not only win the Guineas but also go on to land The Derby as well. The trainer is quietly confident and the recent racecourse evidence compelling.

The favourite on Saturday looks likely to be last year's champion juvenile Teofilo, a colt trained by Jim Bolger who only has one British Classic to his name after Jet Ski Lady won the Oaks in 1991. Like Adagio, Teofilo also has Derby aspirations and has even been mooted as a possible St Leger runner, the Triple Crown consequences of which have been well touted.

If Teofilo is indeed the next Nijinsky, the others won't see which way he goes but, given modern day breeding trends, the 2000 Guineas these days tends to be won by a miler which might stay further, as opposed to a stayer which might be good enough to beat a bad lot over a mile.

The French-trained US Ranger and last week's Greenham winner Major Cadeaux (Hannon) have to be respected but, if there is a champion miler in Saturday's field, logic would suggest that horse is Haatef, trained by Kevin Prendergast to win a decent Curragh maiden last season before an unlucky looking fourth place in Teofilo's Dewhurst.

Trained solely for Newmarket this season without a prep run, Haatef is a rare British Classic raider for Prendergast, a veteran Irish handler who sees no point in tilting at windmills. The last time he sent a colt to contest the 2000 Guineas was 30 years ago. The name of that horse was Nebbiolo. It won.

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