Nicholls has Pure speed for record bid

Racing would be nowhere without great lashings of naive optimism, but not even the punter who has a daily Heinz has anything on Epsom racecourse, which stages an annual assault on the world equine speed record on the Monday of the August Bank Holiday. With utter predictability, the start of the weekend saw rain across much of the country, and as a result, the 19 sprinters who will try to beat Epsom's 40-year-old five-furlong track record of 53.6 seconds this afternoon must do so on ground which, at best, will be no faster than good to firm. It is, to say the least, a shade of odds against.

Racing would be nowhere without great lashings of naive optimism, but not even the punter who has a daily Heinz has anything on Epsom racecourse, which stages an annual assault on the world equine speed record on the Monday of the August Bank Holiday. With utter predictability, the start of the weekend saw rain across much of the country, and as a result, the 19 sprinters who will try to beat Epsom's 40-year-old five-furlong track record of 53.6 seconds this afternoon must do so on ground which, at best, will be no faster than good to firm. It is, to say the least, a shade of odds against.

However, with speed machines like Repertory and Afaan in the field, they will probably get within a second or two of the record, set by Indigenous in 1960, which was in any case recorded by hand and thus probably half a second too fast. And if one of them can beat it, the winning owner will pick up a £100,000 bonus to go with the prize-money of around £15,000, which certainly adds a little spice to the otherwise humdrum Bank Holiday cards.

Stephen Wallis, Epsom's general manager, could at least offer the comfort yesterday that while Epsom got wet on Saturday, other venues were far wetter. "We didn't have the rain that they had at Lord's or at Newmarket,'' Wallis said yesterday, "and 19 runners is the biggest field for five furlongs we have had for a long time so it will certainly be a cavalry charge. It will take an exceptional effort but it is not impossible, and we have paid the insurance premium, so we want to pay out.''

One further factor which seems to suggest that a record time is unlikely is that most of the pace in the race appears to be drawn low, when it is the high numbers, against the stands rail, which are generally held to have an advantage on Epsom's straight course.

Simple, unsullied speed, though, is the essential ingredient here, and it is something which Pure Elegancia (next best 3.40) has in abundance. David Nicholls had seven runners in this race at the overnight stage, but relies on just Pure Elegancia and Anthony Mon Amour, both of whom have featherweights. He is surely tilting at the bonus, and Pure Elegancia, better drawn of the two in 10, can win the race even if the record proves beyond her.

The principal supporting race at Epsom is the Moet & Chandon Silver Magnum, the so-called Amateurs' Derby over the full Classic trip of 12 furlongs, but for all the grandeur of its title, this is a race which would not look out of place on a Tuesday afternoon at Catterick. Elie Hennau, the winner 12 months ago on a horse trained by Gary Moore, teams up with the same trainer again today, but Wasp Ranger is not the most predictable of horses, and Spirit Of Tenby (3.10), a course-and-distance winner and the mount of Edgar Byrne, is preferred.

Gold Academy (2.05), who has been racing above his class so far this year, can take advantage of a drop in grade in the opener, in which National Anthem, a beaten favourite on his last two outings, is his only realistic opponent. In the handicap which follows, MUYASSIR (nap 2.35), unlucky in a fast-run event last time out, is still on a fair mark and has a good draw near the inside rail too.

At Newcastle, meanwhile, the feature event is the Blaydon Race, which commemorates the so-called Geordie National Anthem, as well as the long extinct meeting about which it was written.

Given that allegedly inconsistent stewarding was a feature of the Ebor meeting at York last week, the officials at Newcastle this afternoon might do well to remember that the last ever Blaydon Races, held in September 1916, had to be abandoned when a riot broke out following the disqualification of a winning horse.

Assuming the natives are not too restless, though, the race they may wish to concentrate on when sizing up the main event is the seven-furlong nursery which opened proceedings on Stewards' Cup day at Goodwood. The first three home in that race, Forever My Lord, Dance On The Top and Achilles Spirit, were separated by less than two lengths, and are all in opposition again today. The revised weights imply that there will still be little to choose between them, but Dance On The Top (2.50) is more likely to appreciate the step up in trip, while Mynah (2.20) is also still improving and should win the opener at Gosforth Park.

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