Racing: Crystal has power to bite back at Baracouda

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The Independent Online

While Ascot lies splattered in ruins, the adjacent racecourse has risen from the dead and it is hardly any coincidence. Windsor this afternoon enjoys the second day of its second transferred meeting from its Berkshire neighbour, where demolition is now virtually complete and the grandstands have been reduced to rubble.

While Ascot lies splattered in ruins, the adjacent racecourse has risen from the dead and it is hardly any coincidence. Windsor this afternoon enjoys the second day of its second transferred meeting from its Berkshire neighbour, where demolition is now virtually complete and the grandstands have been reduced to rubble.

The phoenix has appeared just over five miles down the road, with the revival of jumps racing on the banks of the Thames and perhaps the most illustrious race to be ever run at Windsor. Eight (and this is a significant number) go to post for today's Long Walk Hurdle, including one of the modern greats of the National Hunt sphere in Baracouda.

The French-trained gelding has won this race three times already, albeit at Ascot, in 2000, 2001, 2003 and by an aggregate distance of 68 lengths. It is an awesome record to bring to the table, especially as it is bolstered by a successful seasonal reappearance, at Newbury, and warm words from his Chantilly stable.

"I would say that he is in better form than last time because he has had his comeback race and has improved from that," François Doumen, the trainer, said yesterday. "I do not think that he has ever been as strong as he is now.

"The horse will be running on a new racecourse and we do not know if this funny-shaped [figure of eight] track will suit him. But at least now Tony [McCoy] knows the horse after riding him last time and he knows that he is not that simple to ride, given his hold-up style. It will develop into a tactical race, which is always a bit of a difficulty, but Tony is good enough." It may be instructive that the last time Baracouda appeared on a track anywhere near this lay-out was in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell three years ago, when Solo Mio almost got to him.

It may be bordering on heresy, but the shape of the course, and the number in the field, determine that an each-way alternative must be located, especially as Baracouda has endured more hard races than he should have during his career

The versatile and durable Rule Supreme is one option after finishing third to Solerina over an insufficient trip recently. Wille Mullins' gelding already has the unusual double of the Royal & SunAlliance Chase and French Champion Hurdle in the bag. Now he hunts his most valuable scalp yet.

"I think he should appreciate the step back up in distance as the trip at Fairyhouse last month was just too short," the Irish trainer said yesterday. "It was the only Group One race on this side of the pond though, so he had a crack at it. But Baracouda is going to be very hard to beat." Rule Supreme win and place would not be a knave's bet, but a better prospect on the same terms is Alan King's Crystal d'Ainay (next best 2.25), who was not far behind the favourite at Newbury. He just needs one thing to go wrong with Baracouda to scoop the pot.

In the preceding race, you have to be bold to back Nil Desperandum, who seems to have bumped into and bumped off an albatross on the gallops.

A leading Irish novice of last season, Frances Crowley's runner emerged from injury to be a well-supported factor in the Hennessy Gold Cup. He was pulled up in that, but still got further than he did subsequently in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown, where he was prevented from running because of a passport irregularity. Instead, this should be a winning forum for the well-treated Le Duc (1.55), who has yet to justify Paul Nicholls' high opinion of him.

The bet of the day also involves a beast from the Manor Stables in Ditcheat. My Will was ostensibly disappointing when third in the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham last month, but that may be a misleading guide. The runner-up, Contraband, has since run over the much vaunted Made In Japan in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown and it appears that MY WILL (nap 1.25) may be in possession of camouflage form.

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