Bell confident low draw can execute Woodcracker plan

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The Independent Online

History shows that even Black Bess would have struggled in the race which celebrates its 46th running this afternoon had she been allocated a double-figure berth. Until Arcalis came along and temporarily disfigured the trend 12 months ago, an outside draw meant instant death.

The best example came in 2000, when Sir Michael Stoute's Medicean, who had just been third to Giant's Causeway in the St James's Palace Stakes and would win the Queen Anne Stakes and the Eclipse the following season, ran in the race. Drawn 21 of 22 he dribbled home 14th as the 5-2 favourite. This, then, is a handicap which could clip Pegasus's wings.

Stoute again has a fancied runner this afternoon in the shape of Notable Guest, but, once again, the draw gods have gone against both him and the other market leader, Aidan O'Brien's Mullins Bay. No such problems have befallen third favourite, WOODCRACKER (nap, 3.55), who has persuasive form with Notable Guest on the basis of their April debuts at Newmarket.

To listen yesterday to Michael Bell, Woodcracker's trainer, was to listen to a man who had apparently already seen the highlights of the great race and ended it staring into a bank of flashlights from the vantage point of the winners' podium.

"He's in good form and this has been the plan for a while," the Newmarket trainer said. "He's got his ground and a good draw. He's a lightly raced horse because he's had his problems, but we have had a really good smooth run into this race. He loves the ground on the easier side of good and he's run well at the track. And he's a stone better off with Notable Guest. There's definitely a lot going for him. An awful lot of positives and very few negatives.

"Notable Guest is going to have his work cut out to give him the weight, and Mullins Bay is drawn 19, which is hard to overcome even with a genius [Kieren Fallon] in the saddle. Ours has been working well with Shabernak, who won a Listed race last weekend [the Esher Stakes at Sandown, the race after the yard's Motivator lost his unbeaten record in the Eclipse]. That might have been over a different trip than they both like, but the strength of the gallop is there.

"Hughie Morrison's [Solo Flight] I thought could be a danger, another lightly raced sort, but I think our horse is the one. I wouldn't know what to back against him."

Chester's main offering to a terrestrially televised triple-header is the City Wall Stakes, which, on the balance of form, looks available to Corridor Creeper (2.55), but the other significant contest of the day takes place at Lingfield, where drums will also roll, in conjunction with a brass band, as the first all-weather pattern race is run in Britain.

Stoute is rather better treated by the draw here and his Chic, the winner of the Group Two Celebration Mile at Goodwood last year, is likely to go off favourite for her seasonal return. However, the filly, like another fancied beast in Court Masterpiece, has never raced on an artificial surface.

Vortex is reported at the top of his form after denying Court Masterpiece by a short-head in the Group Three Criterion Stakes at Newmarket last month, but there is another which has the beating of him on previous form.

Andrew Reid's Eccentric is the all-weather horse of the year, a beast who has won four times on Lingfield's Polytrack surface this year, including the Listed Winter Derby, when he beat the useful Blythe Knight. The four-year-old switched back to turf last time to land the Rose Bowl at Epsom, and, while we have to guess if others can make the transition to dirt, we do not have to worry about Eccentric (next best, 2.00).