Racing: Stanly can spoil return for Swinburn

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The Independent Online
THERE were many who suspected that Walter Swinburn had ridden in his last Derby when the jockey announced almost a year ago that he would be taking a "sabbatical" from the saddle to overcome problems with his weight. This afternoon, however, Swinburn will ride in Britain for the first time since, and while the Winter Derby on the Equitrack at Lingfield is not quite as prestigious as the original at Epsom in June, it will still be a significant moment in the career of one of Britain's most popular Flat jockeys.

Swinburn will partner Drive Assured, trained by Clive Brittain, in this new contest, which is worth a very respectable pounds 50,000. By coincidence, his mount is also returning from an 11-month absence, having not reached a track since finishing third in a handicap at Leicester last April. His jockey, however, has been riding regularly in Dubai for the last few weeks, and could return there for the Dubai World Cup a week today.

"Walter will ride at Doncaster next Thursday, then there is the possibility he could get a ride in the Dubai World Cup," Nick Jackson, his agent, said yesterday. "Otherwise he will ride at Doncaster on Friday and Saturday too. He wants to get tomorrow out of the way first but he has been riding out virtually every day since he got back and he is very pleased with his weight. He hopes that by the Craven meeting he will be able to do 8st 8lb.

"He rode Drive Assured in work on Saturday morning and he was pleased with him, although the horse is unproven on dirt."

The Winter Derby is an attempt to raise the profile of all-weather racing, which has now been with us for 10 years and is receiving something of an image makeover. A new name may be next - "four seasons racing" is thought to be the favourite - though this may prove to be as futile as football's attempt to switch from the succinct, familiar "linesmen" to mealy-mouthed "referees' assistants".

Today's race is certainly an interesting one, however, with Farmost and Running Stag, first and second in another valuable all-weather event, the Wulfrun Stakes at Wolverhampton last December, among the contenders.

The surface at Wolverhampton, though, is Fibresand, while Lingfield uses the rather different Equitrack, and it may pay instead to side with Streamroller Stanly (4.10), who has improved considerably for the switch to the all- weather and has won impressively over this course and distance on his last two starts.

Swinburn's return will turn attention to Lingfield, but the feature event of the day is still the Midlands Grand National over a trip just two furlongs short of that for the National at Aintree itself. After a generally excellent week for the punters at Cheltenham - one rails bookmaker alone is rumoured to have finished the meeting pounds 300,000 down - many Irish visitors may have decided to extend their trip until the weekend, and there is much at Uttoxeter to attract them.

A third of today's field is trained in Ireland, and the one to catch the eye is Una's Choice (next best 2.20). The winner of a handicap at Leopardstown in January, Francis Flood's runner looks leniently weighted, and should ensure that his supporters can afford even more duty-frees on the way home.

The main supporting event at Uttoxeter is the Tote Novice Chase Final, which will probably fall to Swanbister, although he must give plenty of weight to some useful rivals and will not offer much value. A more appealing bet is in the handicap hurdle, where BEGGARS BANQUET (nap 1.45) can take advantage of a very fair handicap mark on his second run for Steve Kettlewell.

At Newcastle, meanwhile, there are three races for subscribers to Sky Sports, but while a dish will seem indispensible come Northumberland Plate day in the summer, today's offering makes little appeal.

The Tote is to team up with Sporting Index to offer spread-betting facilities, including on the racecourse. "Spread betting is an important area, particularly among our higher-staking customers," Peter Jones, the Tote's chairman, said.

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