Racing: Percy can pass rehearsal for Cheltenham

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The Independent Online
IT WAS while he was being questioned on television about the fate of the "weighing-room three" that Ted Walsh came up with a strange allusion. He thought the case epitomised the sort of justice you could find in Britain, the sort that befell his countrymen in Guildford and Birmingham.

It is perhaps fitting then that Walsh participates today in a great international love-in at Newbury on St Valentine's Day, a card which exhibits that the Brits can organise a meeting when all Irish parties are happy.

There are five Irish entries for the Tote Gold Trophy, and, with the greatest respect to Walsh's Commanche Court, the best of those appears to be Graphic Equaliser. Arthur Moore's winner of the Ladbroke Hurdle has been put up 16lb by the Irish handicapper for his Leopardstown win but carries just a mandatory 4lb penalty here - the difference between a brick and a toothpick in his saddlecloth.

Indeed, there are many judges willing to speculate that the six-year- old will go on from this afternoon to play a considerable role in the Champion Hurdle. Though he may be contesting only a handicap, this is not a rash thought. Gold Trophy winners do rather well when trekking west.

Twelve months ago, Make A Stand ran his opponents ragged in this race before making his rivals look scruffy at the Festival. The previous year, the Newbury winner, Squire Silk, managed fifth at Cheltenham, while Mysilv achieved a similar position in 1995. The most remarkable result, though, was four years ago, when Large Action, Oh So Risky and Flakey Dove, the first three from Newbury, filled the same places at Cheltenham, though it was the mare that led home the boys on the major occasion.

The rationale for this history is simple. Newbury's race has always been extraordinarily valuable (this year it is worth a minimum pounds 100,000) and inevitably attracts some very good horses, many of them improving up a steep curve. As a searching blow-out before the Festival it could not be better timed.

Kerawi, the second favourite, is another who is being primed for the Champion. The gelding's win in the Christmas Hurdle does not look as good, however, now the three behind him that day were slain by Master Beveled at Sandown last Saturday.

A trawl through the form book suggests that neither he nor Graphic Equaliser has as good a chance as Mr Percy. The seven-year-old represents the man with the richest pedigree in the race, Josh Gifford, and he too has his sights trained on another target. "I'm not grumbling about his handicap mark and as he's won two nice races he might as well have a crack at this," Gifford said. "If he's lucky enough to win or be placed we might have a crack at the Champion Hurdle with him."

Mr Percy (next best 2.20) it is then, to follow Ask Tom (1.45) on to the day's roster of winners. The latter has been getting the better, albeit narrowly, of Viking Flagship in recent times and he is more likely to be the one improving for a numerically disappointing Game Spirit Chase.

McGregor The Third (1.15) is hardly a surprising selection for the opener, though an arresting element of the day is the first screening of Market Rasen since it formed part of the ITV7 in 1982. "Those that haven't seen this delightful rural course will see what a splendid place it is," Charlie Moore, the clerk of the course and Market Rasen head of tourism, said yesterday. "I feel that part of Uttoxeter's rise out of the ashes is because they have had this higher profile. And I know perfectly well from my own involvement at Warwick last year that people think the place is going places just because it has been on television. There is that perception."

One reality, of course, was that Uttoxeter used to pay Channel 4 for the privilege of having their racecourse billboarded on national televsion. Charlie is a bit coy when it comes to divulging if he has done the same. "We have had to do a deal," he said. "We have had a bit of help."

An interesting aspect will be how many helicopters survive the spiral down to the track as, during the war, Market Rasen was requisitioned as an anti-aircraft headquarters. Another element to sharpen the mind will be how many beasts actually contest the finale, the Gold Card qualifier.

In a similar contest at Warwick last month there were eight non-runners in a heat which allowed participation at Cheltenham for horses that had merely been declared to run, never mind take part. Torch Vert is already a non-runner in Lincolnshire and it remains to be seen if today will approach anything like the case of the "Warwick Eight".

Jamie Osborne, one of the three jockeys arrested in the doping and race-fixing investigation by police, is to break his silence on BBC television today. Osborne will be interviewed after the 1.15 race at Newbury.

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