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HORSERACING: I just hope my luck holds a bit longer; Garry Owen (Gordon Brown) continues his build-up to the Cheltenham Festival with the lowdown on Mark Pitman's challenge.

MARK PITMAN was bred for the National Hunt game. First as a top jumps jockey and now a successful trainer.

He is surely everything racing legends Richard and Jenny Pitman could have wished for in a son to uphold the family tradition in the sport.

Though BBC commentator Richard and retired handler Jenny have long since gone their separate ways, they will be re-united at Cheltenham as Mark unleashes his most powerful ever raiding party on the biggest stage of them all.

The team from Weathercock House, formerly his mother's base, is spearheaded by Ever Blessed (Tote Gold Cup), Monsignor (Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle) and Wakeel (Arkle Challenge Trophy).

Pitman, 33, is no stranger to success at the Festival. During his days in the saddle he won the 1991 Gold Cup on Garrison Savannah and last season, his second with a licence, he prepared Monsignor to land a 50-1 shock in the Festival bumper.

Twelve months on, Monsignor is a best-priced 5-4 for his target. He is unbeaten in all five outings over timber.

Pitman, whose riding career was curtailed after he lost a battle against the scales, said: "How can you pick holes in any of those wins? All things being equal he has the best credentials around and it will take a very good horse to beat him.

"I'm just keeping my fingers crossed our luck can hold a bit longer."

Ever Blessed, already the winner of this term's Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, is the yard's big hope in the Gold Cup although, because of a delicate shoulder muscle problem, the gelding hasn't raced since his Newbury victory in November.

Pitman said: "He needs to improve about 20lbs to win it but he is unexposed and improving. I'm very happy with him and he'll go there in top form.

"He's a big, powerful horse and fully deserves his place in the line- up. Timmy Murphy rides again and the pair get on well together."

Patriarch is joined among the entries for the bumper by Warwick winner Sheer Genius, Genuine Article and Zaffre Noir but it is unlikely they will all run.

Pitman has high hopes for Wakeel in the Arkle. "A great each-way chance. He was second to Decoupage at Sandown with Gloria Victis third so that looks top form.

"Ashley Park is a possible for the Champion Hurdle although he has been held up slightly with a little foot problem which prevented him running at Wincanton last week. If he had run I would have been going to Cheltenham a lot more confident as he has had only the one race over hurdles.

"Browjoshy holds entries in the Fulke Walwyn/Kim Muir Chase,William Hill National Hunt Chase and the Royal & SunAlliance Chase. His form is very good - he was only just beaten by Beau at Ascot recently - so he has a good chance in whatever race we run him in.

"Count Campioni has a shout in the Stayers' Hurdle as the trip will be ideal. He prefers better ground but he has gone well in the soft and his form is very good.

"With about eight runners a couple of winners would put the seal on a great season."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Owen, Garry
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 4, 2000
Words:533
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