Racing: Baracouda to plunge with the minnows at Sandown

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The Independent Online

Baracouda, the best hurdler in training and even-money favourite to complete a hat-trick of Stayers' Hurdle victories at Cheltenham next month, is set to face a mighty task on Saturday in his final prep for the Festival. His name is among the entries for the Sandown Handicap Hurdle and, given his superiority in the division, he will have to concede Arkle-type lumps of weight. His official mark before he last ran, when he trounced Mr Cool by 30 lengths in a Grade One contest at Ascot in December, was 168. Of his 19 potential rivals at the weekend, the highest rated is last month's Warwick winner Mistanoora on 143. The French star's presence would thus relegate all the other runners out of the handicap and effectively kill the Tote-sponsored event as a betting medium.

Baracouda, the best hurdler in training and even-money favourite to complete a hat-trick of Stayers' Hurdle victories at Cheltenham next month, is set to face a mighty task on Saturday in his final prep for the Festival. His name is among the entries for the Sandown Handicap Hurdle and, given his superiority in the division, he will have to concede Arkle-type lumps of weight. His official mark before he last ran, when he trounced Mr Cool by 30 lengths in a Grade One contest at Ascot in December, was 168. Of his 19 potential rivals at the weekend, the highest rated is last month's Warwick winner Mistanoora on 143. The French star's presence would thus relegate all the other runners out of the handicap and effectively kill the Tote-sponsored event as a betting medium.

Baracouda, beaten only once in his last 14 starts, is used to carrying weight, but not giving it away in prodigious, even if favourable, amounts. The last time he ran in anything but a graded race was three years ago this month at Fontwell, when, as a novice, he scraped home by a neck from Solo Mio in the National Spirit Hurdle, a Class B race.

He was entered in the Sandown race 12 months ago, but the prospect of bad weather and the possibility of the meeting being called off prompted his trainer, François Doumen, to spare the gelding, not the best of travellers, an arduous and possibly unnecessary journey. His absence then meant the weights shot up 31lb.

But Doumen is not daunted by the task facing JP McManus's nine-year-old in the £60,000 race. "I missed the race last year so I have decided to run this year," he said. "He is a different horse this year and I feel that I should enjoy running him."

Handicaps are not an habitual experience for top-class horses, at least not these days. But the following Saturday the reigning champion, Rooster Booster, is scheduled to continue his build-up to the defence of his crown in the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury.

More conventionally at Esher, Rhinestone Cowboy, one of the powerful Magnier team (the ones that wear dark blue, not red and white) may attempt to redeem his reputation in the Agfa Hurdle. The Jonjo O'Neill-trained eight-year-old, who ran third in the Champion Hurdle as a novice last year but disappointed when sixth of seven at Leopardstown in December, is one of 14 entries, which also include the Bula Hurdle winner, Rigmarole, in the two-mile event.

There was a broad hint at Exeter yesterday from another high-rolling owner, David Johnson, that his exciting chaser Therealbandit would take his chance against the seniors in the Gold Cup. The novice looked poised to give Jair Du Cochet a race in the Pillar Chase at Cheltenham last month before falling four out. After watching his Our Vic gain the smoothest of wins on his fencing debut under Tony McCoy he indicated that the pair would not be in opposition at the Festival. Old Vic's prime target is the staying novices' race, the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, though he could switch to the two-mile Arkle Trophy if the ground is very testing.

"Therealbandit is very, very well," said his owner yesterday. "I'm not ruling him in or out of the Gold Cup at this stage, but what I will say is that he will not take on Our Vic at Cheltenham." The third of Johnson's Martin Pipe-trained squad of talented beginners, Well Chief, appears at Taunton today.

It was not all smooth sailing for McCoy and Pipe at Exeter. In the juvenile hurdle Tamarinbleu, at 1-10, could finish only third behind 10-1 shot Deer Dancer and Randolph O'Brien, at 50-1.

Racing in brief: Fallon back in Britain and ready to resume at Lingfield

Kieren Fallon will be in action for the first time in Britain this year at Lingfield tomorrow when the six-times champion jockey has three booked rides, two for Newmarket trainer Mark Wallace and one for Ed Dunlop. Fallon has been riding in Japan and the Middle East over the winter. He is 1-3 with Paddy Power to retain his title, which is based on all Flat races run between 25 March and 6 November.

Leicester will inspect at 11am today to assess prospects for racing tomorrow. Towcester will inspect at 4pm today to assess hopes for Thursday's card. Heavy rain has put the meetings in doubt and Nick Lees, clerk of the course at both tracks, said: "If the forecast is correct prospects are not great."

Jump racing is to return to Windsor in November for the first time since the track ended 130 years of National Hunt racing in December 1998. But it will only be on a temporary basis as the Thamesside track, Salisbury, on terrestrial television for the first time in 25 years, and Lingfield share the fixtures to be relocated following the closure of Ascot for 20 months from this September in order that the course's £180m redevelopment can take place. With York staging the royal meeting in 2005, Ascot will reopen for the royal meeting in 2006.

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