Brandon should hold court in the Coral Cup

This year, they said, it would be different. After a series of fast-ground Festivals, the winter had been wetter and the water-table was higher. Two weeks ago there was even talk of heavy ground, and yet by yesterday the going was firm enough to produce four course-record times, including Rubhahunish's win in the handicap hurdle which bettered the old mark by all of nine seconds.

This year, they said, it would be different. After a series of fast-ground Festivals, the winter had been wetter and the water-table was higher. Two weeks ago there was even talk of heavy ground, and yet by yesterday the going was firm enough to produce four course-record times, including Rubhahunish's win in the handicap hurdle which bettered the old mark by all of nine seconds.

And since the ground is pretty much the same as last year, it should be no surprise if some of the winners are, too. Two horses, Monsignor and Flagship Uberalles, are expected to start at odds-on today, and both were successful at the Festival 12 months ago. At this morning's best odds, it is a 3-1 chance that the double will come up again in the space of 40 minutes.

It is impossible to find an alternative to Monsignor (2.00) in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle, particularly since the only horse within hailing distance of him in the betting is Far Cry. His best Flat form gives him every chance, but he has yet to learn that hurdles are to be jumped rather than galloped through.

Flagship Uberalles is harder to support at short odds, if only because the depth of the competition in the Queen Mother Champion Chase is that much stronger. Edredon Bleu and Direct Route, second and third to Call Equiname 12 months ago, are back, while Nordance Prince has a chance if he manages to stay on his feet.

At just six years of age, however, Flagship Uberalles (2.35) is still improving, and he has not only the speed and technique to win around Cheltenham, but the sort of courage under pressure which made Viking Flagship, his half-brother, twice the winner of this race.

For anyone hoping to make a decent profit, however, the Coral Cup is the race to solve, and anyone with a mischievous sense of humour will be hoping that Magic Combination can follow up his win in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday. Barney Curley, his trainer, refused to receive the trophy afterwards because it was sponsored by a bookmaker, and the sight of Coral's presentation party chasing him around the winners' enclosure today would be one to treasure.

Magic Combination may have had his 15 minutes of fame and a better bet may be BRANDON COURT (nap 3.15), whose second place to Rubhahunish at Sandown looks stronger now that the winner has followed up at the Festival.

In the Royal & SunAlliance (Novices') Chase the Irish vote will be split between Alexander Banquet and Native Upmanship, but there are grounds (jumping and stamina respectively) for opposing both. By contrast, neither factor is a worry in the case of Lord Noelie (next best 3.55), who also has form on today's ground.

In the Festival Bumper, Ready To Rumble (5.40), who had no luck in running at Newbury should stay on well up the hill. Inn At The Top (4.30), who always runs well on fast ground, who must also go close.

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