Racing: Side with St John in battle with bookies

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The Independent Online
The Cambridgeshire is one of the year's most tempting handicaps for punters and the statistics show that it can often be solved too. Greg Wood, who on the last two Saturdays has selected the 14-1 winner of the Ayr Gold Cup and the 9-1 winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, picks an improving youngster to continue his winning sequence

It is very difficult to be a punter this morning and not feel a little intimidated. There are plenty of valuable handicaps spread throughout the Flat season which poke you in the ribs and dare you to take them on if you think you're tough enough, but none of them is quite so in-your- face about it as the Cambridgeshire. Just about the largest field of the year, many prepared throughout the campaign with just this race in mind, belting down nine furlongs of Newmarket Heath - this is a challenge that few can refuse, even when they know that they are likely to get hurt.

The first essential, of course, is not to let it know that you are afraid. In all, 36 runners will enter the stalls just after 3.30 this afternoon, but you can look this field in the eye without blinking and overlook at least a dozen which are clearly carrying too much weight or have lost their form. Next, study the statistics, which reveal that, with the exception of Balthus's victory at 50-1 a decade ago, the Cambridgeshire is not the wild lottery which the number of runners might suggest. Four of the last seven winners were returned at single-figure odds, while the other three came home at 10-1, 11-1 and 14-1, prices which in an average year are almost nudging favouritism.

Among the likely favourites this afternoon is Hunters Of Brora, who finished second in the race three years ago, a magnificent effort in view of the fact that Halling, the winner, was already showing the improvement which would turn him into one of the best horses in Europe but raced off a low handicap mark of just 93.

The problem with Hunters Of Brora, though, is that whether it is a well- handicapped opponent or a wall or horses at an inopportune moment, something always seems to prevent her winning, and she has not recorded a victory for several seasons. She also seems to go best after a break, which is not something she has enjoyed before today's race.

The memory of Halling, though, should direct punters towards an obvious source of progressive horses who may still be ahead of the handicapper.

Three-year-olds have a good record in the Cambridgeshire, and three in particular appeal as possibilities today. Prince Of Denial showed an excellent turn of foot to win at Newbury two weeks ago and is fairly priced at 12- 1, while Rudimental is aalso tempting at 20-1 with Coral and the Tote.

A better bet than both, however, may be SILK ST JOHN (nap 3.35). A 33- 1 chance with those same two firms this morning, Mick Ryan's runner was just touched off by Yalta at Kempton recently in a race run in an excellent time. The mere reproduction of that form would take him very close today, and there could well be improvement still to come.

The feature event on the supporting card is the Sun Chariot Stakes, in which Reams Of Verse, the Oaks winner, attempts to apply some polish to a reputation which was tarnished by defeat in the Yorkshire Oaks last time out. Henry Cecil, her trainer, suggested afterwards that she did not stay 12 furlongs, which is somewhat unusual for a 12-furlong Classic winner, but even though today's mile and a quarter may be more to her liking, her York form is not what you would look for in a short-priced favourite.

The one to beat her could be One So Wonderful (next best 2.55), a one- time Guineas prospect who took rather longer than expected - about six months longer, in fact - to come to herself. When finally ready to race, though, she trotted away with a well-contested Listed race at Sandown, and she should exploit the 6lb she gets from Reams Of Verse.

The Jockey Club Cup will be the last racecourse outing for Double Eclipse, who never quite matched the achievements of his full brother, Double Trigger, but will no doubt run his usual solid race against a field which is likely, ground conditions permitting, to include Further Flight. He won this race five years in a row before his sequence was ended by Celeric, the subsequent Gold Cup winner, 12 months ago. Further Flight has a fair chance of making it six wins today, though it is something to anticipate and enjoy rather than bet on.

The nursery is another race best watched, while at Chepstow too, it is a little early in the campaign to get seriously involved with the jumpers. That said, Crandon Boulevard (2.40) should go well in the Timeform Free Handicap Hurdle and Father Sky (3.10), who has had a pipe-opener on the Flat, can win the Mercedes Benz Chase.

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