Claimer slips field

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The Independent Online
The presence of television cameras threw a perhaps unwarranted spotlight on the frozen wastes of Lingfield yesterday, but at least the Channel 4 presenters - who were minus the pair most consistently guilty of hyperbole - did not pretend that the afternoon's sport had any pretentions to quality. Seventy-nine horses turned up to compete at the Surrey track, one of two meetings to survive the sub-zero temperatures, but the best of them could only be described as moderate.

The fare on offer - eight races in the lowest three classes of competition - was of interest only to those directly involved with the runners and to the hardiest of punters. The conditions were such that even Captain Oates might have thought twice about venturing out for an afternoon in the open air.

But that said, racing on the Flat on all-weather tracks like Lingfield undoubtedly serves its purpose as a vehicle to keep both the racing and betting industries rolling during hard times. Representatives of the latter, though, had little to cheer them yesterday. Five favourites won during the afternoon, including Superbelle, who relieved one of the rails layers of pounds 5,000 after a pounds 6,000 cash bet, in the penultimate contest.

There were some heartwarming cameos to take the chill off, and one man who is unlikely to forget the day was Geoff Gallagher, who rode his first winner from only his fourth ride when Slip Jig took the mile-and-a-half apprentices' claimer. The 18-year-old, the son of a welder from Swansea, started riding just two years ago. He is attached to Richard Hannon's yard and hardly had to move as the odds-on shot strode clear in the straight to win by nine lengths. His beaming smile as he was led in showed what the occasion meant to him.

At the other end of the career scale, the 71-year-old trainer Charlie Moore, soon to hand his Brighton yard over to his son, Gary, after 35 years with a licence, went out on a winning note, courtesy of the sprinter Invocation, who ended a 33-race losing streak with a neck victory in the opening event.

Dane O'Neill, steered by Hannon to last year's apprentice championship, produced the riding performance of the day on Sharp Imp in one of the divisions of the six-furlong handicap. The seven-year-old, who carried top-weight, has to be brought with a short, sharp burst and O'Neill showed great confidence as he dropped back to last on a surface that normally favours those who race up with the pace.

But he had the situation well under control, for Sharp Imp, who had finished second on the track two days previously, travelled twice as well as anything else and needed only a couple of smacks to maintain his concentration and advantage.

His victory on Sharp Imp was a pointer to the chances in the last of Step On Degas, second when "Charlie" was third before Christmas, and the wittily-named filly (her sire is Superpower, her dam Vivid Impression) confirmed the form cosily.

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