11/22/2003 12:00AM

Best Mate defeated

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Rain and the French invader Jair du Cochet combined to deny Best Mate a repeat victory in the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon in England on Saturday.

Best Mate, Britain's champion steeplechaser, was never happy on the ground and suffered his sixth defeat in 17 tries. He was beaten by eight lengths but has still never been worse than second.

Best Mate, who led all the way to win the 2 9/16-mile Peterborough last year, settled behind the eventual winner this time. But Jair du Cochet made a mistake at the fifth of the 16 fences and Best Mate took the lead. Jair du Cochet, though, took over again at the ninth. Best Mate stayed with him until they were between the last two fences, then Jair du Cochet began to pull away. Even a poor jump at the last fence could not stop him.

Jair du Cochet (3-1), trained by Guillaume Macaire and ridden by Jacques Ricou, completed the course in 5:23.60, 17 seconds slower than Best Mate last year.

Jim Culloty, who rode beaten favorite Best Mate, said, "It's been raining all day. The ground was wet and sloppy. He couldn't gallop on it, let alone jump."

Best Mate will meet Jair du Cochet again in the Grade 1 King George VI Chase, over three miles at Kempton on Dec. 26. The real objective for Best Mate, however, remains a third consecutive Gold Cup victory at Cheltenham on March 18.

- Jockey Christophe Soumillon broke Cash Asmussen's 1988 record of riding 200 winners in France in a season when he took Saturday's last race at Fontainebleau on As My Guest for victory 201.