Racing: Will a Green Green rascal come home?

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The Independent Online
Al Capone was born on 17 January and today also promises to be a television widow-maker of an afternoon with 10 races available across the airwaves. Only those with access to the extraterrestrial, however, will be able to watch the excitement from Newcastle, where Sky begins its pitch for the Saturday market.

Team Murdoch has signed a contract with Gosforth Park which means the track's notable contests, such as the Eider Chase and the Northumberland Plate, are exclusively theirs. Today's offering is hardly up to that standard, though the Dipper Novices' Chase is both valuable and not without interest. The name horse here is Green Green Desert (3.00), one of those marvellous beasts whom everyone seems to know even though he's not brilliant. What he is, is an unadulterated scamp.

Green Green Desert made a great skill of finishing in the frame on the Flat while at the same time conveying the impression he could have won with a smidgen more application. They thought obstacles might iron him out, but they thought wrongly. The seven-year-old still fools around, but such is his natural ability that he has won four of his last five races. He should succeed again today, but it's not worth putting good money on that eventuality.

At Warwick, there is another Lucifer of the turf in the shape of Sister Stephanie. Graham McCourt's mare has established that it is far less breathtaking to stand rock still when the tapes go up than amble off with the rest of her species. Last Saturday, she did actually start at Sandown, but she was soon finished, falling at the first. Selecting one scoundrel on a Saturday is probably more than enough, so the old mare is passed over here for another of her sex, CERIDWEN (nap 2.35).

The tough nut to crack on this card is the 26-runner handicap hurdle, but as most of the field are out of the handicap, it may not be quite as unfathomable as it first appears. The one to be is Princeful (next best 3.10), who was overpowering at Cheltenham last time. He will need to be good to beat Lord Jim.

Even Lingfield has its attractions today, when the sugar daddies of Ladbrokes stage the all-weather handicap final, though the main card of the weekend, of course, is at saturated Ascot. Off air the principal interest will centre on Bellator, who is being talked about as a possible winner of both the Tote Gold Trophy and the Champion Hurdle. If he can't win today he'll capture neither of the other two.

Royal Toast (1.15) looks good for starters, and the run of Super Tactics (1.45) will give us a clue as to how Celibate might perform in the day's top event, the Victor Chandler Chase. When the pair met here last month, Super Tactics was given a sound thrashing.

The betting shape of the Victor Chandler exhibits just how open the race is. There are claims for Or Royal, even though his best distance is probably beyond two miles, and Mulligan, who spends more time on the floor than lino.

Celibate (2.20), like his trainer, Charlie Mann, has had a chequered career, which includes a second in the Belgian Champion Hurdle at Waregem. He was beaten six and a half lengths by Or Royal in the Arkle Chase at last year's Festival, so the weights give him a sporting chance of revenge.