Racing: Bellator best bet but weather likely to win

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The Independent Online
The elements will decide today's course of action for armchair punters. Greg Wood on a valuable card hanging in the balance.

Officially the going at Newbury yesterday was supposed to be soft with heavy patches. Unofficially, it was wet enough to skim pebbles on the home straight after an overnight downpour, and the card planned for yesterday was immediately abandoned. Worse still, more rain is expected, and today's Mandarin Chase meeting may well go the same way.

If the meeting survives a 7.30am inspection, racegoers will have nine races to keep them warm, with two of yesterday's events being held over to today. If it fails the test, the BBC will cover three races from Uttoxeter, while on Channel 4 we have Dorans Pride in action at Naas and the dubious delights of Lingfield's all-weather Flat card.

In fact, punters should not have anything to do with the latter meeting, for no other reason that that the card is sponsored by Ladbrokes, who swallowed up Coral earlier this week and then had the cheek to claim that punters would be better served as a result. There are a total of 64 horses entered to run at Lingfield today, enough to produce an impressive amount of manure, but still nothing to compare to the pile which Chris Bell, Ladbrokes managing director, served up on Thursday. "There are still plenty of options when all the independent bookmakers are taken into account," Bell was quoted as saying. Whether or not he did so with a straight face went unrecorded.

Lingfield is, in any case, a very trappy card, whereas if Newbury goes ahead both the Mandarin Chase and Challow Hurdle are fascinating heats.

Ability to act in the mud is essential and there are several runners with just such an affinity in the Mandarin. However, one of them is Sister Stephanie, whose attitude deteriorates by the race, which leaves River Mandate and ANC Express (1.45) to consider. The latter is the better bet as he may be open to rather more improvement.

The Challow Hurdle brings together some of the most promising young hurdlers in the country. French Holly will be hard to beat, but Laredo (next best 2.15), the latest potential star from Noel Chance's yard, could provide a little value.

BELLATOR (1.15) is a difficult horse to train but ran well for a long way in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Sandown. On his earlier winning form, he is generously weighted.