Racing: Dublin looks a capital proposition

The touts claim that Sparky Gayle could soon be the best chaser in training, but he will need to be fit as well as talented to win at Cheltenham this afternoon. Greg Wood studies the card on the most important day of the season so far.
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The Independent Online
There is just one way to be sure of seeing a Gold Cup winner this afternoon, and that is to travel to Ayr to watch Mr Mulligan in the Sean Graham Chase, but rather more people will pack into Cheltenham for the Murphy's Gold Cup, and it is just possible that they will see a Gold Cup winner too. Sparky Gayle, who was unbeaten in six starts as a novice chaser last season, will start favourite for the first major handicap of the National Hunt campaign, and bookmakers reported yesterday that punters were eager to back him for the big race at next year's Festival in anticipation of an impressive victory today.

Bookmakers, of course, report such things all the time, while rarely offering any evidence that the hot money in question amounts to more than a fiver each-way. None the less, Sparky Gayle, who was campaigned with great intelligence by Colin Parker last season, is by some way the most interesting new recruit to the senior chasing ranks, and having won the Cathcart Chase over the Murphy's course and distance at the Festival back in March, he certainly deserves to start favourite this afternoon with just 10st 2lb on his back. Whether he deserves to be a such a short price for his seasonal debut in what seems sure to be a race run at a fearful pace is another matter entirely.

The simple answer is no, since with Dublin Flyer in the field, he will have little chance to find his feet with a gentle pop over the first few fences, while at the other end of the race, any lack of race fitness will be all too evident on the climb to the post. When the favourite offers little value, however, there is usually a decent bet further down, and the interesting thing about the Murphy's from a punting point of view is that with half a dozen of the nine entries running from out of the handicap, the list of credible alternatives is attractively short.

Challenger Du Luc is back within a few pounds of his winning mark of 12 months ago, but he is a rather quirky animal whose form appeared to be tailing off towards the end of last season. Dublin Flyer (next best 2.55), on the other hand, is reportedly as well as ever as he approaches his 12th birthday. He was born to race at Cheltenham, would arguably have beaten Challenger Du Luc last year but for slipping up with three to jump, and is very fairly priced.

Elsewhere on the card, there are potential Festival horses everywhere (it is only 123 days to Champion Hurdle day, after all), not least in the Grade Two Mackeson Novices' Hurdle. Circus Star, who finished second in last year's Triumph Hurdle but still started this season as a novice, will take some beating, but he has done very little winning for a horse of such apparent talent, and Polydamas (2.20), eighth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March, is fancied to beat him.

Celtic Abbey (3.30), the best hunter chaser of last season, has improved immeasurably for a move to Venetia Williams's yard, and should take full advantage of the 24lb he receives from Coome Hill, last year's Hennessy winner, in the handicap chase, but the most solid bet of the day awaits those who hang around for the final event, the stayers' handicap hurdle.

Turnpole, recent winner of the Cesarewitch at Newmarket, will find plenty of supporters despite carrying top weight. Three and a quarter miles around the ups and downs of Cheltenham, though, is rather different to a flat, almost straight and hurdle-free race at Newmarket, and preference is for a hurdler who knows this course well, HAILE DERRING (nap 4.05). Nigel Twiston-Davies's runner has won eight of his last 13 races, but it is his fourth place in last year's Gold Card Final, off an identical handicap mark to today's, which gives him an outstanding chance this afternoon.


NAP: Polydamas

(Cheltenham 2.20)

NB: Royal Scimitar

(Windsor 3.25)