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Best Mate concerns as Knight runners suffer sore throats; Edredon Bleu is latest to fall victim No thoughts of retirement for Edredon Bleu despite defeat.

Byline: RODNEY MASTERS

WITH just four weeks to go until Best Mate's Gold Cup bid, a sickness worry hangs over trainer Henrietta Knight's team after Edredon Bleu became the latest of her runners to return home from the racecourse with a sore throat, following his lethargic performance when pulled up at Wincanton on Saturday.

Knight reported yesterday that ten of her last dozen runners had succumbed to the same illness. The trainer is keeping her fingers crossed that triple Gold Cup hero Best Mate - whose box is next to that of Edredon Bleu - may have established immunity when under the weather at Christmas, although a concern is that the Gold Cup favourite had a different ailment to the one now prevalent at West Lockinge Farm.

``Best Mate was coughing immediately after Leopardstown and didn't have a bad throat, but that's currently the problem with the sick horses,'' she said. ``I understand many stables are troubled with sore throats, which seem impossible to diagnose until after a horse has raced.''

Viruses have caused problems for a number of high-profile stables this season, including those of Jonjo O'Neill and Nicky Henderson, and Knight said: ``I know I'll be unpopular for suggesting this, but it would do no harm if the weather closed in for a week and there was no jump racing. Horses from different yards wouldn't be mixing and it would create an opportunity to clear up the problem.''

She added: ``Prior to a race, we've blood-tested and scoped our runners, and nothing has shown up. Problems surface after the stress of a race. Horses run badly because they've had difficulty breathing due to the infection.''

Knight said Edredon Bleu's Wincanton run was typical of the symptoms, and Jim Culloty reported the 13-year-old was never travelling, or jumping with his usual fluency. He was out in a paddock yesterday and has started a five-day course of antibiotics.

The trainer dismissed a suggestion the gelding should be retired. ``It does annoy me, because we know Edredon better than anyone and it most certainly isn't a case of him disliking his racing,'' she said.

``He's as enthusiastic as ever. It seems to have been forgotten that a few weeks ago he ran really well in a particularly competitive novices' hurdle where the form has been franked on several occasions.'' Future plans were discussed yesterday with Jim Lewis, Edredon Bleu's owner. ``We'll always do what is best for the horse, and we know he continues to enjoy his racing,'' added Knight. ``Ideally, we'll retire him on a high with a win, rather than a low. If he doesn't run again this season it's possible he'll be back in the autumn, maybe in a two-anda-half-mile hurdle.''

Lewis, on holiday in Tenerife, also confirmed that the former King George winner would race again.

He said: ``I hope that he will be better by Cheltenham. It just seems to be a mild dose and we won't be drawing stumps with him yet.

``There seems to be so much of this sort of thing about, and it is just a matter of keeping your nerve and running the horses, even though it means you have a chance of catching something.

``What we could do with is a really cold spell for a couple of weeks to get rid of it.''
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 21, 2005
Words:552
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