12/28/2004 12:00AM

Beef or Salmon upsets Best Mate in Lexus Chase

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Best Mate, three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, was upset by Beef or Salmon in Tuesday's Group 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in Ireland.

Sent off the 4-5 favorite in a field of six jumpers, Best Mate slipped at the first fence and never seriously threatened, finishing five lengths behind Beef or Salmon, the 2-1 second choice.

Beef or Salmon, third in last year's Lexus to Best Mate, covered the three miles in 6:41.70 over soft ground with heavy patches.

Best Mate's connections, trainer Henrietta Knight and jockey Jim Culloty, blamed the course conditions for his defeat.

"Jim said he ran well but he hated the ground and we knew he would," Knight said. "We can't keep ducking and diving and I didn't even consider pulling him out.

"We will pack up now and head back to Cheltenham," said Knight. "I think he can beat Beef or Salmon on better ground."

Bookmakers reacted by increasing Best Mate's odds of winning a fourth successive Gold Cup in March to 3-1. Beef or Salmon is listed at 6-1 to win the Gold Cup.