Ask Tom finds right answer

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The Independent Online
AFTER the famine, the feast. Racegoers, for so long starved of high-class action by the freeze, had some magnificent fare laid before them yesterday. Here, Ask Tom smashed the course record for two miles with a roof-raising victory in the Victor Chandler Handicap Chase and the well-backed favourite Make A Stand romped home in the big betting heat, the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle. And up at Haydock that much-loved old warrior Jodami warmed hearts with his first win for more than a year after a pulsating finish to the Peter Marsh Limited Handicap Chase.

Ask Tom, the rising star, had it all to prove against his battle-hardened rivals in the feature race after an unexpected reverse on his previous appearance, and on the turn in he looked booked for third place at best as Viking Flagship loomed upsides trailblazing Clay County. But the eight- year-old's adrenaline - and that of Russ Garrity in the saddle - was running on full bore and, as the concession of a stone began to tell on Viking Flagship and Clay County's stamina ebbed, he hurled himself back into the fight.

At the line he was three-quarters of a length in front and no horse, not even Desert Orchid, has crossed Kempton's fences faster. "This was proper racing", said Garrity. "We were flat out all the way. I gave him a slap down the far side and it took him half a mile to respond. But, once we were in the straight and he started motoring, I knew we'd got them."

It was more than the winner's shellshocked trainer Tom Tate did. The Yorkshireman had been monitoring the race on a TV screen which cut out three from home. "I thought we were beat'', he said, "They went so fast he was guessing at some fences, but his sheer ability got him there.

"You wouldn't believe how laid back he is at home, a real pipe-and-slippers man. But on the racecourse he puts it all in, and more. It drains him, and we can't go to the well too often with him."

Ask Tom will meet Viking Flagship, who faded to fourth place but lost little in defeat, at level weights in Cheltenham's Queen Mother Champion Chase. "That will be judgement day, " added Garrity.

Martin Pipe's ploy of leaving top-weight Pridwell, who ran at Haydock, in the Lanzarote Hurdle overnight to keep the weights down worked to perfection as his stablemate Make A Stand made all with his customary enthusiasm. The 2-1 favourite came home to a rousing reception from all bar a few, and his trainer cannot be blamed for exploiting a loophole in the rules. Make A Stand is now 7-1 with William Hill for the Tote Gold Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday, 8 February.

Jodami, winner of the Gold Cup four years ago, is now 14-1 with Hills for the Grand National after showing some of his old class to beat Unguided Missile and the novice Avro Anson in a finish of necks to the Peter Marsh Chase. Carrying top-weight, the game 12-year-old simply refused to be beaten as Norman Williamson, riding him for the first time, brought him with a challenge between his two rivals after the last fence.

On fast ground he was another to lower a course record, but Williamson's efforts landed him with a four-day ban (27-30 January) after vets found he had marked Jodami with his whip. He joins Adrian Maguire in the sin bin; at Kempton the Irishman was stood down for two days longer for irresponsible riding after the stewards judged he had tried to push another rider off the course on the approach to the first flight in a hurdle race. He intends to appeal against the decision.

The Champion Hurdle picture will be clearer after this afternoon's Irish version at Leopardstown, in which David Nicholson-trained Zabadi and Escartefigue will test the mettle of the home side's Theatreworld and Urubande. But at Haydock yesterday the tough mare Mistinguett threw down her gauntlet with an all-the-way demolition of a decent field, and had her Cheltenham price slashed from 33-1 to 14-1 as a result.

Mistinguett was positively flea-like as she hopped her hurdles and kept up her relentless gallop to repel the challenge of Dato Star. En route to Cheltenham she is likely to meet Make A Stand in the Tote Gold Trophy, for which she is Hills' 5-1 favourite.