Snooker: Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump level after first session in their World Championship semi-final

The four-time champion led 4-1 in an absorbing contest, before Trump,
the natural heir to O’Sullivan as the sport’s great crowd-pleaser, rattled off three frames in a row to draw level.

So they will resume tomorrow, for morning and evening sessions, at four frames each in the race to 17, their target for a place in the final.

O’Sullivan fired in breaks of 65, 75 and 89 on his way to the three-frame cushion, and looked then a strong favourite to secure an overnight lead.

But 23-year-old Trump, who said prior to the match that he would not be scared of O’Sullivan, proved good to his word as he gutsily fought back.

He seemed down and out in frame seven when O’Sullivan built a handsome lead after a break of 56, which was most noteworthy for the sublime shot that kept it going on 36.

Faced with a difficult positional shot on the pink, with the reds
awkward, he screwed the cue ball off the colour and swung it around three cushions and into a cluster of four reds on the top cushion. It elicited a handy split, but O’Sullivan could not convert the break into a
frame-winning clearance.

Trump got back to the table with an outstanding long penultimate red, laid a smart snooker
behind the green and forced a seven-point foul. Trump drilled a red to the middle pocket and made it count by clearing to the pink for 26 to snatch the frame.

Buoyed by that, Trump fired in 72 in the final frame of the session to end on a high.

O’Sullivan last night claimed this would be his final World Championship.

“This is my last farewell, it’s my swan song. I’m happy; I’m done,” said the 37-year-old.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen here but I’ve made a little bit of money now so I can go and pay the school fees now for the next two years.

“But really I don’t think snooker is for me.”

O’Sullivan has repeatedly floated the prospect of retirement during his career, and bookmakers already make him odds on to play at the Crucible next year.

The scepticism is understandable, and six-time world champion Steve Davis believes O’Sullivan’s remarks could be considered “disrespectful”.

Davis, speaking to the BBC, said today: “We know full well that Ronnie O’Sullivan’s interviews are a bit like the British weather: they’re changeable.

“But there’s a dilemma for the snooker
fan. They love what comes off the end of his cue; they sometimes hate what comes out of his mouth because it is sometimes disrespectful to snooker.

“The question to ask for every snooker
fan is: ‘Is it better for Judd Trump to win this match rather than Ronnie O’Sullivan even though Ronnie is such a breath of fresh air when he plays great?’

“It’s a tough question to ask. If he’s saying he’s not going to play on the table and that’s true, what use is he to the future of snooker?

“We’d love Ronnie O’Sullivan to be playing more snooker, not less.”

Dennis Taylor, world champion in 1985, believes that rather than walk away entirely, O’Sullivan should consider entering just the World Championship every year.

And he believes he could better Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles by doing so.

Taylor also suspects O’Sullivan may have been using kidology ahead of the crunch clash with Trump. What he achieved with his revelations last night was to take all the attention away from showman Trump.

Taylor told Press Association Sport: “Ronnie’s said this all before and you have to take it with a pinch of salt sometimes. He loves playing the game still as you can tell by the way he started against Judd.

“There’d be nothing wrong with him winning the World Championship every year and playing in nothing else.

“And then when he’s overtaken Stephen Hendry I’ll say he’s the greatest player that’s ever picked a cue up, so maybe that’s what he’s going to do.

“You never know with Ronnie, maybe it’s a little bit of psychology. You never know what’s going on in the brain of a genius.”

Taylor suspects that O’Sullivan’s departure from the tour would be considered no great loss by his fellow players.

“He’d be sorely missed by some but not by the players. We had 10 different winners this season with Ronnie not playing so they won’t mind
if Ronnie doesn’t want to play,” Taylor said.

“It means more money, more titles for them. I’d be surprised if he does finish but you never ever know with the Rocket.”


Snooker: Ronnie O’Sullivan takes narrow lead in World Championship semi-final against Judd Trump

The game’s two box-office stars produced another spellbinding session
this morning, with four-time defending champion O’Sullivan clicking into gear to move 9-7 ahead prior to tonight’s play.

The quality could not be replicated by last-four debutants Barry Hawkins and Ricky Walden, though, with the pair limping through to their
mid-session interval with four frames knocked off in over two hours.

Starting out 6-2 down, Hawkins slugged his way back to 7-5 without making a break higher than the 36 he made last night. His nuggety style got him back in the mix, however, as Walden – fluid yesterday – lost his way.

Their display was very much a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show
following the second installment of the O’Sullivan-Trump clash.

O’Sullivan, who again courted controversy on Wednesday when he said he was only in Sheffield for the money, reeled off three frames in a
row to move clear of Trump, who may end up regretting his claim that he
was not scared of the 37-year-old.

Winning the last frame of the morning did at least give the world
number three something to cling to, though, as a two-frame buffer is a lot more manageable than a four-frame one against someone as potent as O’Sullivan.

There had been doubts as to whether or not O’Sullivan would retain the support of the crowd after his comments about cash, but there
was no suggestion of that as he took the opening frame.

One vocal fan told the Essex potter to “show him” after Trump undercut a pink to the middle, and his clearing 90 appeased those of the
opinion that O’Sullivan was not someone to be disrespected.

Trump was not looking particularly nimble amongst the balls and let out an audible groan when he fluffed a red on 35, but an identical contribution got him over the line and level again.

A fascinating 11th frame fell on the side of O’Sullivan thanks to
a brilliant behind-the-yellow safety. He clipped a top-cushion red to get Trump in all sorts of trouble and knocked in a timely 34 to the pink.

Trump was as good as his word in not being intimidated, though, and responded by taking the final frame before the interval to give O’Sullivan plenty to think about.

That would be the last time the Bristolian was level, however, as
O’Sullivan rattled off three frames in a row after the resumption.

The first of them should have gone Trump’s way but he never looked comfortable with the pink on the black spot and stalled on 30. O’Sullivan cracked in 43 and then produced a brilliant snooker on the green from which his opponent could not escape.

Seven became eight as O’Sullivan made a punishing 93 to the yellow after Trump missed a routine red to the corner, and a run of 60 secured him the next after the world number three blinked first in a safety exchange.

Trump managed to claw one back, though, with O’Sullivan missing the green after a messy run of failed pots, setting up an intriguing penultimate session.


Snooker: O’Sullivan homes in on title but dreams of bricks and mortar

But the “Rocket” returns on Monday with a welcome 10-7 lead after the opening two sessions of their best-of-35 frame showdown here in Sheffield.

O’Sullivan, the defending champion, is going for a fifth world title having never lost a final in Sheffield. This latest attempt has come after the 37-year-old took a year away from the sport to try and deal with personal issues. He was installed as overwhelming favourite against the 34-year-old Hawkins, who, before this year, had never got past the last 16 in seven attempts.

Victory for Hawkins today would represent the biggest shock in a world final since Joe Johnson toppled Steve Davis, the six-time winner, 27 years ago. But the world No 14 knocked out world No 1 Mark Selby and the much-fancied Ding Junhui in earlier rounds – before seeing off Ricky Walden in the semi-finals.

And he showed that reaching the showpiece was no fluke by recovering after an early O’Sullivan onslaught in the first session.

O’Sullivan, ranked No 28 in the world after his 12 months off, rattled in early breaks of 74 and 92 as he went chasing the £250,000 first prize. But Hawkins rallied with runs of 88 and 81 to level before moving ahead at 3-2, meaning O’Sullivan was behind in a match for the first time at this year’s event.

O’Sullivan took up the challenge and with breaks of 76, 113 and 100 brought his tally of centuries at the Crucible to 127 – equalling Stephen Hendry’s record – to establish a 5-3 lead. He moved 7-5 up at the interval, but Hawkins hit back with runs of 83 and 133 to level matters and left an intriguing finish to the evening session.

Successive centuries – 103 and 106 – took O’Sullivan 9-7 ahead and then he pinched the last frame of the session to keep himself favourite to defend his crown.

Win or lose, O’Sullivan has threatened to quit again after this year’s final. The four-time world champion has revealed his next step is likely to be building himself a career in property.

“My dream would probably be [to be] a property developer,” said O’Sullivan. “I love Homes Under the Hammer. I’ve had a taste of it as well. I used to go around with a mate and we used to buy a lot of stuff.

“I used to get bored so he’d say, ‘I’ll teach you the property game’, so I’ve got a rough idea about it. But snooker was my game so I couldn’t get too involved.”

O’Sullivan is a clear favourite to win this year’s final. But despite wiping the floor with the field after a 12-month break, O’Sullivan is still making plans outside of the sport.

“I don’t want to do something just for the money, for the celebrity status, like Big Brother or something like that,” added O’Sullivan. “I love the show but putting myself through it, I couldn’t do it.

“I’ve been to a couple of property auctions. My mate said to me: ‘It’s a good day out. We’ll have a laugh.’ I’ve never bought at one. Apparently Gary Neville goes to them. It was in London, a big one. It was out of my league. I don’t know how he does it really, he must be doing all right for himself.

“I know that I need an outlet. Snooker’s not going to go on forever and having that year out made me realise it was my job. But I don’t want to find myself trapped in a sport that I know is going to end one day and find myself in the position that I was for the last 12 months.

“It was a bit of a reality check and that’s why I’m thankful for what snooker has given to me. But I’ve got some good friends and they want to help me set myself up so that I don’t have to rely on snooker so much.”

Snooker: Ronnie O’Sullivan undecided over future after winning fifth World Championship

Neither the triumph over Barry Hawkins nor the O’Sullivan change of heart came as a surprise, and now O’Sullivan can begin to recharge his drained batteries for a tilt at next season’s big events.

After going into self-imposed exile from snooker for almost a year, O’Sullivan rolled up in Sheffield without any competitive match practice and proceeded to tear through the draw, culminating in an 18-12 triumph against surprise finalist Hawkins.

Hawkins, the 34-year-old world number 14 from Kent, emerged from their tussle with huge credit. It was comfortably the biggest match of his life and he met the challenge head on. His reward was £125,000, more than treble the size of his previous highest pay cheque, and the respect of his opponent and the watching millions.

But O’Sullivan magisterially took the title, becoming the first man to successfully defend the world title since Stephen Hendry in 1996.

Pressed on whether he would return next year, having during this event pledged to quit before next season’s Crucible tournament, O’Sullivan said: “I can’t say that I am, because I had my year out and enjoyed my year out.

“I intend to play in some small events. Come December or January I’ll have a better idea of what I’m going to do.

“Now I’ve got to enjoy one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, retaining the World Championship title.

“I’m well equipped to win more titles but it’s not easy.

“There were times in this tournament when parts of my game weren’t great.

“But I managed to play my way through the tournament and get stronger and stronger.

“I was able to manage my emotions and my mind better than I ever have done and that got me through.”

He prevailed in record-breaking style, with his six centuries one more than any player has managed before in a World Championship final.

His career total of three-figure Crucible breaks now stands at 131 – four ahead of former front-runner Hendry’s haul.

Following breaks of 103, 106, 113 and 100 on Sunday, O’Sullivan ploughed in 133 and 124 yesterday.

“You have to face your demons during this tournament and that’s why it’s such a hard tournament to win,” O’Sullivan said.

“In the final I had everything to lose and nothing to gain.

“People said it would be a procession, but everyone on the snooker circuit knows what a good player Barry is.”

O’Sullivan earns a wild card to January’s Masters event, and may only be seen fleetingly in action before then. The UK Championship in December could be his first major tournament of the season.

Hawkins made two centuries in the match, so to lose was hard to swallow.

Hawkins said: “I’m a bit gutted straight after the defeat but if someone told me I’d get to the final I’d have ripped their arm off.

“Once you get there you want to win the title but you can’t come up against anyone tougher than that. There’s no shame in losing to him 18-12.

“I just missed a couple of balls here and there. He responded with big break after big break and that’s why he’s won five world titles.”


Snooker: ‘Worn out’ Ronnie O’Sullivan through to quarter-finals of Betfair World Championship

As snooker’s “burnout” debate rages, O’Sullivan’s claim that he is tired after only his second match since September seemed extraordinary. Unlike the other players, he can hardly blame World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn’s packed calendar.

After winning all 12 of his previous matches against Ali Carter at major tournaments, including last year’s Crucible final, O’Sullivan extended that record to 13 from 13 by prevailing 13-8 to set up a clash with Stuart Bingham on Tuesday.

Carter came from 6-3 behind to briefly level at seven frames each, at which point he had O’Sullivan rattled in his seat, with the 37-year-old four-time world champion still not at his sharpest following almost a full year out of the sport. But O’Sullivan even in rusty condition eventually proved too potent a potter for Carter, who was floored by a flurry of punishing breaks.

Armed with a 9-7 overnight lead, breaks of 88, 106 and 89 in the final three frames suggested O’Sullivan will be difficult to stop as he bids to become the first player since Stephen Hendry in 1996 to retain the title.

O’Sullivan said: “I’m pleased I came through it, but it’s not going to get any easier now. I feel a lot more tired and jaded than I did coming into this tournament last year.”

Carter suggested luck was on O’Sullivan’s side, and that the 37-year-old was benefiting from having taken almost a year out of the sport. But O’Sullivan’s assessment that he is a long way from being the freshest player in the draw was intriguing, particularly considering he must play every day from now until the end of the tournament next Monday to land a fifth Crucible crown.

“Mentally it wasn’t taxing, but whatever I do people think I’ve got an advantage. Whatever I say, everyone thinks it’s all about me, all about Ronnie,” O’Sullivan said. “Last year was probably the best I’ve ever played anywhere. Last year I felt unplayable. Last year I was playing some shots and thinking ‘Wow, I’ve got them here’. I knew when I got in I was going to clear the table. And I knew I was just too strong physically, mentally, I just felt invincible.”

Responding to Carter’s claim that O’Sullivan had all the good fortune, he said: “I don’t necessarily think it’s luck, I just think I’m one of those people who keeps getting back up, keeps fighting and keeps punching. I’m a trier. I’ve always come out and given it my best. I’m not afraid of any situation, I’m not afraid of taking a risk.”

Carter is convinced O’Sullivan can carry off the title. “If his head doesn’t fall off, yes he will,” he said. “But we all know if his head falls off anyone can beat him. If he plays like he did today, nobody can beat him.

“I think he’s done the right thing having a year off; in fact I might do that next year. Why not?”


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Bingham has struggled to make a World Championship impact since marking his debut in 2000 with a stunning first-round win over defending champion Stephen Hendry. But the 36-year-old from Basildon posted a 13-10 win over Mark Davis today to set up the O’Sullivan showdown.

Bingham said: “I’ve got nothing to lose, all eyes are on Ronnie. Playing Mark it was a really cagey safety battle but against Ronnie it’ll be more open and hopefully it’ll be like a break-building feast.”

Ding Junhui believes he can deliver China’s first Crucible title, and the manner of his 13-9 victory over Mark King suggested he may be right. With four centuries and seven more breaks above 50 in the match, Ding staged a brilliant recovery from a poor first session to win comfortably.

Next in the firing line of the former Masters and UK champion will be Kent’s Barry Hawkins in a last-eight clash that begins on Tuesday.

King said: “He was on a different planet and when he’s hitting the ball like that I don’t think anyone can get near him, even Ronnie O’Sullivan.”

Ricky Walden’s 13-11 win against Robert Milkins completed the last-eight line-up.

$1.4 Billion Turned Down by Betfair

Betfair the online gambling company has recently rejected an offer by private equity firm CVC Capital Partners citing that the offer was too low and was full of conditions they just didn’t want. CVC is the largest shareholder in Formula One Motor racing but they just couldn’t reach the checkered flag with Betfair.

Earlier in the week the Betfair stock was trading at 700 pence before CVC had released word they were considering a bid, but then in a turn for the best, the stock rose 4% and investors are convinced this is only the beginning of what could be a strange time for Betfair.

With the online gambling market growing faster than most anything else, there are many companies out to make serious money by buying new online casino brands the world over. Betfair was founded in the year 2000 and is famous for allowing players to bet against one another instead of using a middleman or bookie.

The newest bid by CVCis not too far of the number that Betfair would seriously consider but they will now hold out until a much higher bidder comes around.

Betfair’s stock has dropped drastically since 2010 and have begun pulling themselves out of some countries where regulation is still unclear and tax rates are too high. That doesn’t mean there is still major interest in the company and this latest bid is proof to just that.

CVC truly believes that transforming Betfair into a private company would be a lot more efficient and they do have experience in these things, don’t forget they bought British bookmaker William Hill in 1999 and put them on the stock market three years after.

Accumulator refunds if one leg loses

Place a fivefold on European football fixtures this week and if one leg lets you down, Bet with will refund half your stake (up to £25)

Acca Refunds if one leg lets you down
Place at least £/€5 on a fivefold (or above) multiple with a minimum odds of 6.0 (5/1) choosing matches from any top European league match this week. If your multiple has exactly one incorrect result, Betfair will refund half your stake up to a maximum of £/€25. Your bet must be placed using a Betfair mobile application or a mobile version of the Betfair website and opt in.

Bet with New account holders: £20 risk free bet

Twiston-Davies says Cheltenham Festival will start on testing ground

The Cheltenham Festival is expected to start on stamina-sapping ground next week, following a steady fall of rain since Thursday. The going on all parts of the track was changed to soft at 4pm on Friday and another 5mm to 6mm of rain is expected to fall before racing begins on Tuesday.

After a dry spell of almost three weeks and warmer temperatures, there had been a widespread expectation that the Festival going would be considerably better than has been the case for much of the winter. But that no longer appears certain, with forecast low temperatures for next week meaning the course will have little opportunity to dry out.

“We’re a lot higher up than the track, so we always get more rain but it’s bloody soft here,” said the local trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, on Friday evening. “We’ve had 7mm today, it’s raining now and the water table was high to begin with.”

Frost covers are expected to be deployed around the chase and hurdles courses during the weekend, as well as the vulnerable parts of the cross-country track, and Twiston-Davies noted that the usual effect of such covers is to make the going more holding than before. “I think it’s going to be testing,” he said.

The trainer said deep going was unlikely to be a problem for his best chance of a Festival winner, The New One in the Neptune Novice Hurdle, as he has been running well on soft going all winter. “The one I’d be disappointed for is According To Trev in the Pertemps,” he said.

Twiston-Davies believes he is clear of the virus that caused three of his horses, including Imperial Commander, to be ruled out of the Festival earlier this week. “It’s been a difficult time, but I think we turned the corner this morning,” he said.

“On Tuesday, some of them worked badly, so we did some trach washes and they were bad. Today, everything worked well, there were no nasty surprises.”

Soft going may cause some late changes of mind about race targets for next week’s runners and led to speculation on Friday that Dynaste, the longstanding favourite for the RSA Chase, would now be switched to the shorter Jewson Chase. The horse’s trainer, David Pipe, is expected to announce a final decision over the weekend.

Pipe’s Grands Crus, meanwhile, was ruled out of the Festival altogether, one day after his owner suggested he was a likely runner in the World Hurdle.

The trainer told At The Races that the grey had “worked well” on Friday morning but that a subsequent scope had been unsatisfactory.

“He still worked the same at home as he always has done,” Pipe said. “There’s plenty more left this season and the worse scenario is he doesn’t run again this season. We’ll work towards Aintree and see how he goes between now and then. He’s basically OK but you want to be 110%.”

Big Buck’s, the winner of the World Hurdle for the past four years, will not race again until the same race next year, according to his owner, Andy Stewart. “If he doesn’t like it, or doesn’t get there, he’ll be retired,” said Stewart, appearing on Racing UK at Sandown.

“He could run at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting or we could go for the Long Walk or we could run in the Cleeve Hurdle, but we’re not going to do that. Paul [Nicholls, trainer] and I have decided today, having spoken to Ruby [Walsh, jockey], we’re going to go straight for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in 2014.”

There are often injury scares, real and imaginary, in the last few days before a Festival and one such briefly sprung up around the Champion Hurdle contender Grandouet, who has had one race in the past 15 months. Trained by Nicky Henderson and no bigger than 8-1 with conventional bookmakers, he drifted to 40-1 on Betfair’s betting exchange on Friday before stabilising at just under 9-1.

Speaking at Sandown, Henderson offered no reason for concern. “Grandouet worked on the grass in the fog with Une Artiste and River Maigue,” he said. “They went a good gallop and it was all good. The ground was beautiful.”

The trainer said that Tony McCoy had been at his yard to ride Binocular on Friday morning, while Barry Geraghty had schooled Simonsig and Riverside Theatre. “They’ve virtually finished everything now,” Henderson said of his team’s preparation.

Ripon launches ‘in-house’ pool betting system to replace the Tote

Racegoers at Ripon will no longer be able to place pool bets with the Tote when the track’s new season opens in April after its management decided to launch an “in-house” alternative based on the starting prices of winners. Ripon’s decision follows a lead set by Chester and Bangor, which pioneered an identical system with considerable success last year.

The Tote, known as “the nanny goat” in rhyming slang, has been owned by the BetFred bookmaking chain since the summer of 2011, when it was granted a seven-year monopoly on pool betting. Racecourses are not obliged to let it operate on their property, however, and at least a dozen tracks are believed to have explored the possibility of taking control of betting at windows around the course and via hand-held terminals in restaurants and bars, in order to keep a greater share of the profits.

Several of these courses were bound by an earlier contract with Racecourse Media Group, which manages the media and betting rights of 33 tracks and completed a blanket deal in early January to retain pool betting until 2018. Ripon, however, is free to do its own deal, and expects significant benefits as a result.

“[The Tote] did slightly improve their offer but not to the extent that we felt they could have done,” Ripon’s managing director, James Hutchinson, said on Monday, “and the offer on the table from Data Tote [which will supply and run the betting system] was a very compelling one in terms of both the financial return and the service to customers.

“We would probably be looking at about a 20% increase [in revenue from betting]. It’s a return to the company which we can put back into prize money or facilities in order to keep improving the service and experience for all our customers, from owners and trainers to general public admissions.

“We are an independent course and that is probably why we were able to make the decision a little more easily than a lot of courses. I’m aware that a lot of the RMG courses were locked into a contract negotiation with Totepool and weren’t able to look at alternatives.”

Frankel will have a book of mares which includes nearly 60 mares that either won a Group One race or have produced a Group One winner when he begins his stallion career at Banstead Manor Stud near Newmarket, possibly as early as this week.

Group One-winning mares booked to be covered by the son of Galileo, who retired unbeaten after 14 races at the end of the 2012 Flat season, include Dar Re Mi, Dancing Rain, Midday, Giofra, Alexander Goldrun, Stacelita, Timepiece and the Japanese champion, Vodka.

Wincanton has had to abandon the chases at its meeting on Saturday due to waterlogging and will stage an all-hurdle card, including the Kingwell Hurdle, the last significant trial for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next month. The Kingwell has been re-opened until Tuesday morning, however, after it failed to attract sufficient entries at the five-day stage.

Several former winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including Finian’s Rainbow, Captain Chris, Cue Card and Alberta’s Run, are among the possible runners in the Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday.

Finian’s Rainbow took the Queen Mother Champion Chase at last season’s Festival meeting but was beaten behind Captain Chris on his only start this season, at Ascot in November. Captain Chris has since finished second in the King George VI Chase, a race in which Cue Card appeared to lack the stamina for the three-mile trip. Saturday’s race is staged over two miles and five-and-a-half furlongs, and Cue Card is joint-favourite at 3-1 with Captain Chris in Betfair’s fixed-odds betting. Finian’s Rainbow is 7-2, with Somersby on 7-1, while Alberta’s Run, a dual winner of the Festival’s Ryanair Chase, is an 8-1 chance to make a successful seasonal debut.

Puffin Billy suffers infection

Puffin Billy, who finished only second when odds-on for a Listed hurdle at Exeter on Sunday, has been found to be suffering from an infection in his foot.

“My farrier dug out a whole load of pus from one of his feet,” Oliver Sherwood, Puffin Billy’s trainer, said on Monday. “What with the wet weather, it’s like getting a blister and he’ll have two or three quiet days having it poulticed. Hopefully he’ll be able to be ridden towards the end of the week.”

Puffin Billy is a general 16-1 chance for the Neptune Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham next month, and as big as 25-1 for the Supreme Novice Hurdle the previous day.

Grands Crus, third in the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December but pulled up in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham the following month, will be scratched from the Gold Cup at Tuesday’s forfeit stage and aimed instead towards either the Ryanair Chase or the World Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

“He was given an easy time of things after his race while we tried to get to the bottom of his lacklustre effort,” David Pipe, the grey’s trainer, said on Monday, “and he is now being treated for gastric ulcers. He is back on the gallops and looks well in himself.”

Henderson reveals Simonsig will miss key Cheltenham Festival prep race

Simonsig, the hot favourite for the Arkle Trophy at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, will miss his intended prep race in the Betfair Super Saturday Chase at Newbury this weekend after a routine trachea wash on Thursday evening showed that he could be harbouring an infection.

Saturday’s race, better known as the Game Spirit Chase, was won by Sprinter Sacre, one of his stablemates at the Nicky Henderson yard in Lambourn, on the way to an easy victory in the Arkle last season. It would have been Simonsig’s first race against senior steeplechasers, and he was quoted at short odds for victory earlier in the week.

Henderson told the Racing Post on Thursdayevening that the result of Simonsig’s trachea wash was “only 95%, [and] we’d only run if it was 100%”. As a result, he will now be giving a week to regain full fitness before Henderson decides whether it will be possible to run Simonsig again before the Arkle on 12 March, the opening day of the Festival meeting.

If Simonsig does not run again before Cheltenham, he will go to post for the two-mile novice championship on the back of just two starts over fences, both of which were victories in which he has faced only four opponents. His most recent win came in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novice Chase at Kempton on 27 December.

Simonsig is top-priced at 5-6 for the Arkle Trophy, ahead of Overturn, from Donald McCain’s stable in Cheshire, on 4-1.

Peter Casey, the trainer of Flemenstar, said on Thursday that his chaser will not wear ear plugs in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Saturday, contrary to some reports earlier in the week. “That’s all a mistake,” Casey said. “We were thinking about it, but that’s all gone now, no earplugs.”

Flemenstar is the narrow favourite for Saturday’s race ahead of Sir Des Champs, the winner of last season’s Jewson Novice Chase at the Festival. The outcome is likely to decide whether he runs in the Gold Cup or the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham next month, although Casey still believes he would be a worthy opponent for Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

“I’d love to be going for the Queen Mother [Champion Chase] to tell you the truth,” Casey said, “and taking on Sprinter Sacre. He has plenty of speed over two miles [the Champion Chase trip] and over two and a half [Ryanair] and he’s a good jumper. We’ll have to wait and see, and then we’ll know after Saturday.

“It was probably us that got him beaten [on his first try at three miles in the Lexus Chase last time]. We changed the tactics with him to see if he’d get the three miles, and looking at the race, you’d say that he didn’t get it, but it’s going to be different this Saturday, and we’d hope that it will get it this time.

“I don’t know how many runners there will be, but we fancy him, anyway. He has to learn to get home over the three miles, that’s all that we want.”

One horse who could well be running on the final day of the Festival is Chris Pea Green, who took a strongly-run renewal of the Chatteris Fen Trophy by seven lengths at Huntingdon on Thursday. Gary Moore’s juvenile is now top-priced at 33-1 for the Triumph Hurdle next month.

“He won a bumper here that I thought was a donkey race, then I should never have run him [in a bumper] on the all-weather,” Moore said. “I was amazed how easily he won at Lingfield last time, but I thought the race was no good.”