Channon points to Arabian Dancer

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The Independent Online

The circus is back at Newmarket today, with accusations of clowning around still ringing in the ears of those who staged the previous show at the sport's self-styled headquarters.

The circus is back at Newmarket today, with accusations of clowning around still ringing in the ears of those who staged the previous show at the sport's self-styled headquarters. The collapsing car and whirring bow-tie skit was the Cambridgeshire, which developed into three discrete contests as the field of 32 thundered down the considerable breadth of the straight course. Steps that may avoid a similar farce this afternoon, when the day's richest contest is 30-strong, have been taken.

The man in the centre of the ring doing the juggling act is Michael Prosser, the clerk of the course. It is his remit to make things as fair as possible for all concerned: trainers, owners, horses and punters. The balls in the air are the width of the course, the position of the starting stalls, the size of the fields, the weather and the whims of jockeys. He has control of only the first two.

For this meeting, which culminates in Saturday's Champions Day extravaganza with its two Group 1 contests, the running rail on the far side of the course has been moved inwards 10 metres. The prime purpose is twofold: to present a tempting fresh strip of grass and to rest the turf which was churned up at the last meeting.

But even shifting the rail means the track is still 55 metres wide at the 10-furlong start, narrowing to 35 metres, or nearly 114 feet, at the winning line. In Prosser's ideal world, the runners would stick to the far side for the first two days, leaving the ground towards the stands side as virgin as possible for the classy finale on Saturday.

This he hopes to achieve by positioning the starting stalls on the far side during today and tomorrow. "In the larger-field races I just hope they won't split," he said. "With the stalls over the far side the track is still wide enough to discourage it, I hope. Then we'll move the stalls to the stand side for Saturday where the ground should be best. That's the plan anyway."

Prosser's best-laid, however, may be scuppered by the fact it began to rain in Newmarket at about four o'clock yesterday afternoon. "The biggest factor will be what sort of effect the rain has on the ground," he said. "If the fresh ground gets opened up quickly then the jockeys will be all over the place looking for the best going."

At this time of year, when the evapo-transpiration rate is affected by plants not being so thirsty, the temperature falling and the days shortening, it does not take much rain to change the ground and Prosser, who has left any watering to nature since the last meeting, expects the going report today to read "on the slow side of good".

Today's feature in terms of purse size is the £100,000 Tattersalls Autumn Stakes, restricted to graduates of the eponymous yearling auction in the local sale ring. Mick Channon saddles the likely first two favourites, Obe Gold, who had a price tag of 15,000 guineas last year and has since earned £167,619, and Arabian Dancer (3.25), who cost 3,000 guineas and has netted £65,669 in prize money to date.

"They're both in very good order," he said yesterday, "and they both work about the same at home." Because of his higher sales value and superior win record, the colt must give 19lb to the filly this afternoon and the trainer's hint should be taken.

The classiest contest on the card is the Severals Stakes, which features the return of 1,000 Guineas runner-up Sundrop (2.50), not seen since she flopped as second favourite in the Oaks. She will be the mount of Frankie Dettori who, in the injury-induced absence of Kieren Fallon, increased his lead to 16 in the race for the jockeys' title with a double at Lingfield yesterday.

Fallon, who suffered a fall on Monday, expects to resume his pursuit tomorrow with 21 Flat racing days to go.