Fadalko needs an accomplice for Bank raid

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The Independent Online

With the exception of the Cheltenham Festival in March, the National Hunt season sometimes feels like a long series of weekends, and no sooner had the door closed behind the last racegoer out of Cheltenham on Sunday than attention turned to the big races at Ascot and Aintree this Saturday. The First National Bank Chase at Ascot, which has been won by horses of the calibre of Strong Promise and Sound Man in the last five years alone, attracted nine entries yesterday, while up at Liverpool, 23 names were put forward for a crack at the National fences in the Becher Chase.

With the exception of the Cheltenham Festival in March, the National Hunt season sometimes feels like a long series of weekends, and no sooner had the door closed behind the last racegoer out of Cheltenham on Sunday than attention turned to the big races at Ascot and Aintree this Saturday. The First National Bank Chase at Ascot, which has been won by horses of the calibre of Strong Promise and Sound Man in the last five years alone, attracted nine entries yesterday, while up at Liverpool, 23 names were put forward for a crack at the National fences in the Becher Chase.

The Ascot race, over two and a half miles for novices and second-season chasers, has had a dizzying number of incarnations down the years (older punters may remember it as the H&T Walker Gold Cup or the Black & White Whisky). The one constant, though, has been its strike-rate in producing top-class winners, including Bula and Wayward Lad back in its early days, and the latest running should maintain the tradition.

Though only nine runners at most will go to post, they could include two of the most promising second-season chasers around, Bellator and Fadalko, as well as Exit Swinger, the runner-up to Lady Cricket in the Thomas Pink Gold Cup at Cheltenham three days ago. Upgrade, a close second to Bellator at Exeter last month, is also a possible runner.

Fadalko, however, has also been entered for the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon the same afternoon, in which Edredon Bleu, the champion two-mile chaser, and Cenkos, a winner at the Aintree Festival back in April, are possible opponents. As those who backed him ante-post will recall with a wince, Fadalko was withdrawn from the Thomas Pink Gold Cup because his connections believed they could not find a suitable jockey, and the question of who will ride him may determine whether Paul Nicholls's chaser goes to Ascot or Huntingdon.

"The Peterborough looks a very good event," Barrie Simpson, racing manager to Fadalko's owner, Robert Ogden, said yesterday. "It is a question of what is going to run where and who would be able to ride. I think it is very likely that most of the big names are likely to be at Ascot, and as we do not have a retained jockey, our policy is to use the best available."

The major betting race of the weekend, meanwhile, seems sure to be the Becher Chase, in which a large field will try its luck over the big fir fences. Feels Like Gold, last year's winner and fifth to Bobbyjo in the Grand National itself the previous season, is an intended runner, and will again be ridden by Tony Dobbin, whose record over the National obstacles is second to none. "Feels Like Gold is a bit of a character," Nicky Richards, his trainer, said yesterday, "but he seems to be in good fettle and he has been there three times and never touched a twig. If he can get out in front he might take a bit of catching."

Bobbyjo, too, is among the entries, but Tommy Carberry is more likely to send him to Navan for the Troytown Chase the following day. Instead, Carberry will be represented by Native Status, who should be a useful deputy on the basis of his sixth place in the John Hughes Chase last season. Paul Nicholls, meanwhile, could run Storm Damage and Flaked Oats, both of whom have National-fences experience.

Saturday should also see the delayed return of Looks Like Trouble, the Gold Cup winner, in the James Nicholson Champion Chase at Down Royal in Ulster, but one local bookie yesterday reported money for his main opponent, Florida Pearl, the runner-up at Cheltenham back in March. Liam Cashman cut Florida Pearl to 6-5 from 5-4, and pushed Looks Like Trouble out to 6-4 from 5-4. The remarkable Dorans Pride, the winner of a valuable handicap on the Flat at Leopardstown on Sunday, is 7-1 from 8-1.

"I'm hoping the course doesn't dry out too much," Willie Mullins, Florida Pearl's trainer, said yesterday. "He is in good form and he won the race last year, but he wasn't up against a Gold Cup winner. I am hopeful he will run a big race on Saturday."

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