Horse Racing: Gurkha to overrun Cecil's House

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The Independent Online
THE stock market does not open for business on Good Friday, but if the braces and stripey shirt brigade had been at their desks yesterday, it is fair to assume that Ladbrokes' share price would have risen sharply. The drenching we have all received over the last two days has been a wonderful Easter present for bookmakers, since it adds yet another variable to what was already a daunting list of conundrums for Bank Holiday punters, and anyone tempted by today's card at Kempton would do well to tread very warily indeed.

Betting is, after all, risky enough at this early stage of the Flat season, when many horses are running for the first time since the autumn and could well have lost what form they had during the intervening months. With soft ground also finding out any lack of conditioning, it is a time to expect the unexpected, and treat short-priced favourites with even more scepticism than normal.

Horses, in fact, like Chester House, who will probably head the market for the four-runner Easter Stakes, if only because he is trained by Henry Cecil. He was held in high regard during his juvenile season and finished a good second to Saratoga Springs at York last August.

Look a little deeper, however, and it becomes clear that he is a lazy sort, and thus less likely than most Cecil runners to be fit for his seasonal debut, while the soft ground is also a worry.

The same is not true, however, of Gurkha, who won on an easy surface in a useful time last year. Consider also the fact that Richard Hannon, his trainer, has won the Easter Stakes five times in the last six years, and suddenly GURKHA (nap 4.15) looks like the best bet of the day.

Other decent investments are more difficult to come by, not least in the Masaka Stakes, which is supposedly the first Classic trial of the season and contains four fillies out of a field of nine with an entry in the 1,000 Guineas. Most of the runners are very closely matched on two-year-old form, with another from the Hannon yard, Tadwiga, and John Dunlop's Alharir probably the ones which the punters will concentrate on, but it may be significant that neither was thought worthy of an entry for Newmarket. One who was, however, is Dazilyn Lady (3.45), and while she is highly unlikely to win a Classic, she has form on soft ground and should start at a sporting price. Again, it is also worth noting that her trainer, Peter Harris, won the race 12 months ago.

The remaining televised events are both handicaps, but of markedly different degrees of interest. The sprint is simply impossible, although anyone who is feeling particularly lucky should at least concentrate on those drawn low. The Queen's Prize, though, is not without possibilities, if only because very few of the runners seem sure to be suited by the conditions.

Fabillion, who finished second to Turnpole, last year's Cesarewitch winner, when returning from a long absence at Doncaster a couple of weeks ago, has obvious claims, but that nasty habit among horses of disappointing on their second run after an extended absence is a worry.

Instead, it should pay to rely on the man who has kept so many punters solvent during the long winter campaign, Martin Pipe. Keen Dancer (next best 4.45) was thought worthy of a run in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, is proven on soft ground and looks well handicapped on his hurdles form since arriving at Wellington.