De Bromhead won’t mind Pendleton hoopla if Aupcharlie wins

Racing authorities’ unbridled enthusiam for publicity stunt a real puzzler

Former British Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton on Minella Theatre yesterday. Photograph: Eddie Keogh

If it seems absurd for a sport to so enthusiastically facilitate a glorified publicity stunt on its most prestigious day of the year it is downright ridiculous not to admire Victoria Pendleton’s achievement in making the line-up for today’s St James’s Place Foxhunters Chase and wish her all the best.

The former double-Olympic cycling champion has shown remarkable courage and determination in the last year, progressing from having never ridden a horse before to now riding in the festival’s big amateur rider contest.

That a betting exchange-backed project should have been so embraced by racing’s authorities to the extent that Pendleton’s appearance could threaten the Gold Cup in terms of both coverage and profile says a lot more about a sport desperately unsure of itself than it does about her.

You certainly don’t have to be some po-faced spoilsport to consider that if racing feels unable to sell itself on its own merits to the wider public on Gold Cup day, then when can it?

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What everyone will be anxious for now, perhaps officials more than anyone, is that Pendleton returns safe and sound. She may have passed all the criteria required to ride but John Francome’s claim that she’s an accident waiting to happen comes from one of the greatest champions ever to ride.

The basis for this “switching saddles” project might have been to gain publicity but the old line about there being no such thing as bad publicity has always been rubbish.

Unless Pendleton wins or is placed on Pacha Du Polder, the winners enclosure could be a less frenetic place than usual which won't bother Henry De Bromhead in the slightest should Aupcharlie fill the No.1 spot.

The horse who finished third in the Champion Bumper here in 2011 has looked a rejuvenated character in point to points this winter, including beating Marito last month.

With the outstanding defending champion On the Fringe looking a long way shy of his best on his return at action at Leopardstown it could be presumptuous to assume better ground here will automatically bring him back to peak form.

Better ground is undoubtedly a major plus for Aupcharlie and he also has the benefit of having Jamie Codd, one of the best amateurs around, on his back.

Ground conditions could also see De Bromhead have a major say in the traditional festival finale, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase, with Sizing Codelco.

On his last cross-channel trip, the horse lost his rider at the very first fence in Sandown but the form of his subsequent start at Naas has been significantly boosted by Shaneshill who finished runner up in Wednesday’s RSA.

Sizing Codelco should relish both the ground and the trip and could represent some betting value.

Ivanovich Gorbatov has been on top of the JCB Triumph Hurdle betting since an impressive Christmas debut over flights and he would officially be an Aidan O’Brien trained winner 20 years after his first.

Not so unofficially the horse is in the charge of O'Brien's son Joseph and better ground should be a big help to a talented flat performer. Willie Mullins runs three in this but an each way alternative to the Irish team may Gibralfaro whose trainer Alan King has won the Triumph twice before.

Mullins has an astonishing seven runners in the Albert Bartlett taking on the long-time home favourite Barters Hill but it is one of his County Hurdle hopes, Great Field, who will also attract plenty of attention based on his very impressive Irish debut less than three weeks ago.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column