Flyer to chase away stout rivals

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Twelve months ago, it seemed that Bradbury Star might well enter the record books as the last winner of the Mackeson Gold Cup. If presented with a glass of Mackeson, most people under 50 would be unsure whether to drink it or rub it into their scalp, a fact which Whitbread, its brewers, seemed ready to recognise by changing the name of one of the season's best-loved events. That today's race remains the Mackeson, for one more year at least, is a triumph of tradition over commerce worth applauding.

It is, after all, a moment of almost spiritual significance for followers of the One True Game, when the tapes go up, the Mackeson field sets off, and the National Hunt season begins in earnest. This year, even the elements seem to understand, with rain arriving in the West Country just in time to ensure good fields for both the weekend's cards at jumping's headquarters.

As a result, Buckboard Bounce is among the declarations for the Mackeson, despite being announced as a non- runner earlier in the week because of the predicted fast ground. To judge by the comments of Gordon Richards, his trainer, however, it is far from his choice. "It's the owner's decision," he said yesterday. "He wants to run Buckboard Bounce, he rang me this morning and said to get the horse declared and get him down."

This is hardly a resounding endorsement of Buckboard Bounce's chance this afternoon, not least because this year's Mackeson appears to be one of the best for many years. As well as Bradbury Star, attempting to become the first horse to win the race three years in a row, the prize has attracted Coulton, one of last year's most improved chasers and a serious candidate for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, and Dublin Flyer, winner of the John Hughes Chase over the National fences in April and a long-term fancy for the Grand National itself.

Indeed, it is hard to see the winner coming from outside the first two in the betting. There seems to be little confidence behind Bradbury Star, either in the market or from his stable, while the likes of Egypt Mill Prince and Second Schedual have failed to win in previous years and must now attempt to do so against a better field and off handicap marks at least 5lb higher. Amtrak Express, meanwhile, has little chance of overturning recent Wincanton form with Coulton on 6lb better terms, and the remainder of the field races from out of the handicap.

Some punters still have their reservations about Coulton, but thanks to the efforts of Yogi Breisner his jumping is now much more than simply adequate - at times towards the end of last season it was spectacular. His seasonal debut at Wincanton picked up where he left off last term, when a hat-trick of valuable wins included the Cathcart Chase and the big two-mile handicap on National day.

Just as impressive, though, was Dublin Flyer's victory on Aintree's opening day, when he defied top weight to jump a big field ragged. Although today's race is his first outing since, he won first time up last year and at the morning odds of around 7-2, DUBLIN FLYER (nap 3.00) is an excellent bet to do so again.

The next-best race of the day, somewhat surprisingly, is up at Ayr, where Jodami, the 1993 Gold Cup winner, takes on the last two winners of the Hennessy Gold Cup, One Man and Cogent, and four more runners including Whispering Steel and Antonin. One Man (2.10) should make the most of the 16lb he gets from Jodami, and cement his place at the top of the ante- post lists for this year's Hennessy.

Back at Cheltenham, Romancer (2.25), a very useful and improving hurdler when sound, can beat Express Gift, who may now be weighted up to his best, in the handicap hurdle, while Call Equiname (1.15), who is much better than his latest run might suggest, can rediscover winning form in the opener. Bertone (1.50) should take the novice chase, but is not one to entrust with anything more than small change.

The feature race at Cheltenham tomorrow is the inaugural running of the Sporting Index Chase over the track's new cross-country course. The 14 runners include Docklands Express, the former Post Chase winner, and Its A Snip, who recently landed the Velka Pardubicka over a similar but much more demanding circuit in the Czech Republic. The likely winner, though, is another from the Gordon Richards yard, currently enjoying a strike-rate of almost 50 per cent. Macgregor The Third, an easy winner of two races last season, is one of the North's best chasing prospects.