Kicking King goes for Gold

KICKING KING in and Best Mate out is the latest twist to next Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Tom Taaffe’s Kicking King completed his dramatic return to the Gold Cup picture when scoping clear after exercise yesterday morning. Over a week earlier he had been regarded as a certain non-starter by his handler, after scoping badly. He was immediately put on a seven-day course of antibiotics and Taaffe indicated there would be insufficient time to prepare him properly.

A statement issued by Taaffe yesterday, however, said: “He will be confirmed on Saturday as a runner in the Gold Cup. He has surprised us as to his well-being in all aspects since last Sunday and seems to have put his problems behind him.”

Taaffe rode the horse himself on Sunday. On Monday, Kicking King schooled over six fences. He worked very well on Tuesday and then Taaffe had all the confirmation he needed after he had been scoped.

Paddy Power reacted to the news by installing Kicking King as joint third favourite, with Beef Or Salmon, at 11-2.

They bet: 7-2 Kingscliff, 5-1 Strong Flow, 11-2 Kicking King, Beef Or Salmon, 6-1 Celestial Gold, 7-1 Rule Supreme, 8-1 Grey Abbey, 12-1 Farmer Jack (reportedly due to be supplemented), 14-1 Sir Rembrandt, 20-1 bar.

Ladbrokes and William Hill also have Kingscliff as their 7-2 favourite, but Coral offer 9-2. William Hill go 13-2 Beef Or Salmon and 7-1 Kicking King and Rule Supreme.

There was growing speculation last night that Rule Supreme will take his place in the Gold Cup, rather than the Ladbrokes’ World Hurdle. Rule Supreme’s trainer, Willie Mullins, however, refused to be drawn. He said: “It is very tough luck on the connections of Best Mate and every morning we go out we are waiting for something like that to happen. But I am not going to allow his defection to influence me. “I have said all along I will make up my mind on Tuesday and that remains the situation.”

There seems little doubt, however, that Rule Supreme will go for the Gold Cup assuming regular partner, David Casey, remains sound in the meantime. “He worked well this morning and scoped clean, so it is all systems go”, said Mullins.

Michael Hourigan confirmed that Beef Or Salmon will do his final serious gallop this morning. “He works at 7am”, said Hourigan. “He will then be scoped and by 8am I will know whether he is heading for Cheltenham or not.”

Noel Meade has decided to aim Wild Passion at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, rather than The Royal and SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle.

It had been long felt that the latter contest was the trainer’s preferred option, but he has decided the Supreme Novices is the easier race.

Charlie Swan will have two runners at the Festival, Ground Ball in the Grand Annual and Oh Be The Hokey in the Kim Muir.

Meanwhile, Boylesports have decided to refund all single ante-post Gold Cup wagers on Best Mate.

Spot Thedifference will have to carry top weight of 11st 12lb in the Sporting Index Handicap Chase on Tuesday in his bid to win his third race of the season over Cheltenham’s cross-country course.

The Enda Bolger trained 12-year-old won over the unique three-mile-seven-furlong circuit in November and December. The weights went up 8lb following the withdrawal of Rince Ri at yesterday’s confirmation stage, at which 26 horses stood their ground.

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