Racing: Express to fly in for Ramsdens

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The Independent Online
THE REVIEW from Shakespeare country was most upbeat yesterday as Kadastrof gave his last serious home performance before next week's Cheltenham Festival.

The eight-year-old hummed round the gallops near Robin Dickin's Alscot Park yard at Stratford, though the trainer was not tempted to immediately elevate his chestnut to take on the titans in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Kadastrof will instead remain in novice company for an Arkle Trophy Chase in which he will be just about favourite. "He can only run in the Arkle once and, please God, he will be in next year's Champion," Dickin said yesterday.

"I don't want to sound too bullish, and Cheltenham is Cheltenham, but on the bare form of what they've all shown up to now Kadastrof will win the Arkle. There are a lot of unknowns. Edelweis Du Moulin hasn't beaten anything yet and who knows how good he could be? And I would be terrified of Champleve too.

"He [Kadastrof] worked fabulously this morning. He was as free as a bird and he looks a million dollars."

Kadastrof will be one of the more unusual players at this year's Festival. He is a horse who has shown his battling qualities to good effect across racing's divisions, having won on the Flat, over hurdles and over fences. He likes to keep busy and has won six times this season already.

Perhaps Kadastrof's best offering this season came in defeat though when he finished a close second to Ask Tom in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on St Valentine's Day. That winner now heads the market for the Champion Chase and will not at least be crowded out in the two-mile championship following yesterday's decleration stage.

There will be a maximum of 11 runners in next Wednesday's centrepiece, including past winners of the race in Klairon Davis and Viking Flagship. The contest is greatly flavoured by the inclusion of One Man, who has died a horrible death at each of the last two Festivals.

There will be a relatively small field too for the same day's Royal & SunAlliance Chase. The presence of Ireland's latest wonderhorse, Florida Pearl, has scared off many opponents and the big horse will now have a maximum of 11 rivals, ensuring the smallest field for the race since eight lined up in 1993.

Martin Pipe, who has provided the winner of the race in Rolling Ball and Miinnehoma, supplies a third of the entry. In a book with Ladbrokes the champion trainer is 5-1 to send out four winners at the meeting, as he did 12 months ago. He is 3-1 to saddle two or three winners and 6-1 to draw a blank.

Pipe may warm up for Prestbury Park by saddling the winner of today's big race, Sandown's Sunderlands Imperial Cup, in which he is represented by the favourite, Blowing Wind.

The bookmaking sponsors offer a pounds 50,000 bonus for any horse that goes on to collect a race at the Festival after sucess at Esher. Sunderlands offset their liability by offering deliberately short odds at Cheltenham on their Sandown winner, which they then back with rival firms. They had to cough up five years ago when Pipe himself achieved the double with Olympian.

The Imperial Cup has been made notable this week by the tumbling price of two horses. Blowing Wind himself was cut drastically by Coral, William Hill and Victor Chandler despite those firms not taking a penny piece from the general public. The bookmakers' argument was that they had not initially assessed the race correctly, which, in pub parlance, means they made a cock-up.

The other great movement came when Rubhahunish, who was the 66-1 rank outsider early in the week, suddenly dropped like a stone until he reached 7-1.

The gambled-on horses are united by the fact that their recent form is ostensibly deplorable. Blowing Wind did manage to split Collier Bay and Relkeel at Haydock last time, but those horses ran as if their last meal had been a curry - and they'd shared it about an hour before the race.

It is possible that the gambling smokescreens will mean good value about a horse from a notoriously serious punting yard. While another fancied horse in Nordance Prince is unlikely to appreciate the going, the surface looks perfect for Lynda Ramsden's Hoh Express (next best 4.05).

There is solitary action today too from Wolverhampton and three contests on the BBC from Chepstow. The Welsh races muster just a pathetic 16 runners between them, but there appears to be two standout value bets. Mon Amie (1.15) is improving quicker than the handicapper thinks, while IDIOT'S LADY (nap 1.45) faces opponents who are mostly either out of form or out of the handicap.