11/17/2004 12:00AM

Best Mate back

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Britain's leading steeplechaser, Best Mate, will be in action at Exeter Racecourse in Devonshire on Friday as he embarks on a new season in search of a fourth consecutive triumph in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

A 9-year-old gelding, Best Mate is dropping into a conditions race for his seasonal debut, his first race since his most recent Gold Cup victory on March 18. But the two-mile and 7 1/2-furlong William Hill Chase has virtual Grade 1 cachet, as the field includes Sir Rembrandt, who finished just a half-length behind Best Mate in the Gold Cup at equal weights.

Sir Rembrandt, who prepped for this with a second-place finish in the Group 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Oct. 30, will receive five pounds from the champion on Friday. Group 1 chase winners Hand in Hand and Seebald were also still in the lineup for the $120,000 race at the five-day entry stage.

Trainer Henrietta Knight has named Timmy Murphy to replace the injured Jim Culloty on Best Mate.