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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 07:14 GMT
Crunch year for racing stars
A look at the key horse racing figures for whom 2004 could be a momentous year.
Best Mate

Best Mate
Age: Eight (Nine on 1 Jan)
New Year's resolution:
To emulate Arkle by winning third Cheltenham Gold Cup
Best Mate is already a superstar in National Hunt circles but by 1530 GMT on Thursday 18 March, he could be a legend.

A third successive Cheltenham Gold Cup victory would see the Henrietta Knight-trained gelding equal the record of the legendary Arkle.

He was surprisingly beaten on his seasonal reappearance at Huntingdon in November but was impressively back to form when cruising to victory in the Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.

Five thousand people turned up to see the horse at a special open day last September - a third Gold Cup could turn Knight's Wantage stable into a National Hunt shrine.

Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls
Age: 41
New Year's resolution:
To win first trainers' title
Nicholls was something of a journeyman jockey but as a trainer he is in the business for more than just the ride.

He began his training career in 1991 but it is since the turn of the century that he has really made his mark at the very top.

The season so far has been his best yet with high-profile victories including Strong Flow's astonishing romp home in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup.

Nicholls' Somerset neighbour Martin Pipe has a stranglehold on the trainers' title to the extent that there have been just two years since 1989 when he has not been crowned as champion.

Nicholls has been knocking at the door for the past couple of seasons - with young talent like Azertyuiop and Le Roi Miguel being primed for the Cheltenham Festival, 2004 could be the year the Ditcheat trainer conquers National Hunt.

Jamie Spencer

Jamie Spencer
Age: 23
New Year's resolution:
To have successful first season at Ballydoyle

The 23-year-old Flat jockey burst onto the scene as a teenager when he won the Irish 1,000 Guineas on Tarascon.

That was back in 1998 and ever since the Irishman has been touted as the successor to current multiple champion jockey Kieren Fallon.

Now he has the chance to really establish himself after landing the plum job as stable jockey for Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle establishment for the 2004 season.

O'Brien is backed by the Coolmore breeding empire which ensures that Spencer will be riding some of the world's best - and most expensive - horses.

While Spencer's talent has never been doubted, there have been question marks over his temperament and his riding style.

The jockey is a regular in the stewards' room and a disappointing riding spell in Hong Kong this winter saw him pick up a couple of bans and end up coming home early.

Spencer is following in the footsteps of the ice-cool Mick Kinane and all eyes will be on him to see how he copes in one of racing's hottest seats.

Martin Broughton

Martin Broughton
Age: 56
New Year's resolution:
To unite racing in its battle with the OFT

A man whose name is unfamiliar even to most racing fans, Broughton is widely expected to be the next chairman of the British Horseracing Board.

The BHB is responsible for the day-to-day running of racing and currently faces several headaches concerning the sport's future.

There is the threat posed by the Office of Fair Trading investigation into the sport and the thorny issue of betting exchanges while the growth of all-weather racing is causing alarm among National Hunt fans.

Current BHB chariman Peter Savill retires in June, having achieved much in his reign but having also made plenty of headlines with his uncompromising attitude.

Currently the chairman and chief executive of British American Tobacco, Broughton is expected to adopt a more conciliatory approach to avoid fanning the flames between racing's warring factions.

Seven to watch in 2004
02 Jan 04  |  Horse Racing
Racing: A stable year
27 Nov 03  |  Sports Review 2003
Best Mate odds-on for repeat
29 Dec 03  |  Horse Racing
Gold Cup double for Best Mate
13 Mar 03  |  Horse Racing
Brian Boru bags St Leger
13 Sep 03  |  Horse Racing

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