11/19/2004 12:00AM

Best Mate wins close one

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Best Mate, winner of the last three runnings of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, made a winning seasonal debut at Exeter on Friday afternoon, but he didn't have things all his own way.

A field of four turned out for the inaugural running of the William Hill Chase, a two-mile, 7 1/2-furlong steeplechase created for the connections of Best Mate.

At the halfway point it looked as though it would be a cakewalk for Best Mate, the 3-5 favorite, but turning for home, Seebald loomed up to challenge. Seebald took a narrow advantage close home before Best Mate rallied to win by a short head.

Best Mate's next race is expected to be either the Ericsson Chase in Ireland or the King George Chase at Kempton Park.