An early bath but no Swan song yet

The period between Cheltenham and Aintree, before the Flat season really hits its stride, is inevitably fairly thin, but this afternoon's televised programme does at least offer a hint as to how the BBC might be persuaded to take its racing coverage more seriously. A simple decision to issue jockeys' licences only to students and graduates of Oxford and Cambridge might suddenly persuade the corporation to devote hours to the turf each weekend, no matter how tedious or predictable the resulting action.

So, while a perfectly good handicap chase is taking place at Ascot, the BBC will be showing the Boat Race (however impressive the viewing figures seem, never forget that the only reason 95 per cent of us watch is the possibility that a boat will sink, taking its assortment of braying Hoorays and interloping gridiron refugees with it). Thank heaven we have the Grand National next week to remind us what real sporting endeavour is all about.

Memories of last year's National success by Miinnehoma highlight one of the more intriguing features of today's cards, with Richard Dunwoody, Martin Pipe's stable jockey, missing potentially lucrative rides on the trainer's Sweet Glow and Jazilah at Ascot (Charlie Swan replaces him) to partner six runners at Newton Abbot.

Racecourse rumours this week have claimed that the Pipe-Dunwoody association is about to end, but Robert Parsons, the jockey's agent, insisted yesterday that his choice of Newton Abbot was simply prompted by thoughts of the championship. "He's got a chance of riding six winners," Parsons said, "and at this stage of the season that's more important than prize-money. I really don't know where these stories come from. As far as we're concerned he'll be riding to the end of the season, and next season as well."

Sweet Glow's race is the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle, and while his recent form figures are uninspiring, he now has both the course and the fast going he most appreciates and can repeat last year's success in this event. The two remaining televised races comprise a poorly supported novice chase (the probable winner is Spuffington) and a very difficult novice hurdle. The interesting contest which pits Jazilah against Kilcash, Arabian Bold and the beaten Triumph Hurdle favourite, Balanak, is another victim of the rowing.

Punters who place their bets with independent bookmakers will have a fresh possibility to ponder this afternoon, the Place 6, which has been introduced as an alternative to the Tote's Placepot. The independents feel that the Tote is charging too much for the right to use the Placepot name and odds, and have constructed a formula which will return a dividend based on the starting prices of placed horses in the first six races. As similar formulas are used in such poor value bets as Computer Straight Forecasts and Tricasts, you can safely assume this one will not be giving much away.

By all means have a go at the Place 6 - but only if you are the sort of person who uses a hairdryer in the bath.

n Kim Bailey will today announce whether Master Oats will attempt a Cheltenham Gold Cup/Grand National double at Aintree next Saturday. The indications are that the top weight will take part but, with the ground drying out, he was yesterday eased to 11-2 from 9-2 by Coral, who cut Miinnehoma's odds to 7-1 from 8-1.

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