Blue Forest a boon for Swinburn

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Walter Swinburn not only won his first race for 19 months but proved he can still be strong in a finish when persuading Blue Forest to put his head in front at Newcastle yesterday.

Swinburn, 38, was given a big ovation by racegoers for this comeback success after being forced from the saddle in August 1998 because of alcohol and weight problems.

"That was a lovely feeling - it's been so long since the last one and that's just what I needed," he said. Swinburn, who returned to action earlier this month at Wolverhampton, had to work hard on Blue Forest.

The colt drifted ominously in the betting for the five-furlong contest and started at 4-1. Those odds looked mean at the half-way stage with several rivals travelling far better. But Swinburn coaxed the Newmarket-trained two-year-old through a gap at the furlong marker. From there Blue Forest was hard ridden to beat Charlie Parkes, the joint-favourite, by half a length.

"The race panned out nicely for me - he was a little laid back and sluggish to start with. But once he got his mind on the job he was always going to win," Swinburn said. "I have to say that I've been well-received at all the courses I've ridden at since I came back and it felt like I was winning the Northumberland Plate here."

Swinburn is now looking forward to the big meetings and is satisfied with his general fitness. "It's getting better all the time. All I need now is lots of race riding," he said.

Milligan made a winning switch to the Flat when scoring comfortably over 10 furlongs at Newcastle yesterday. A winner over hurdles at Catterick earlier this month for Venetia Williams, he had since been sent to David Nicholls.

But the 6-1 shot's victory, under Pat Eddery, attracted the attention of the stewards. They looked at the running of Milligan who had never been placed previously in Britain. They interviewed Nicholls and forwarded his comments to the Jockey Club under the instruction "examination of previous runs following an improved performance".

Milligan was campaigned in sprint races in Britain last year though he had run well over longer distances in France. "Last year Milligan worked with Rudi's Pet [the sprinter] and was beating him and that's why we kept him in sprint races," Nicholls said.

Officials at Aintree yesterday announced that the course for the Grand National will be watered only if conditions are likely to be "significantly faster than good".

The going was reported to be ''good, good to soft in places'' on the National course. There had been speculation that the track would be watered this week, much to the dismay of trainers of fast-ground horses.

Ian Renton, the Aintree clerk of the course, said: "The weather forecast for the remainder of the week is dry and cold, with possible scattered showers towards the end of the week. Watering of the Grand National course will only take place if there is a likelihood of the going becoming significantly faster than good."

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