Racing: Fundamentalist to claim top novice event

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The Independent Online

Warwick used to be the kingmaker, but now it is Cheltenham and, in particular, the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase. The timing, venue and typical ground available make tomorrow's Grade Two contest nonpareil for the advancement of the best young horses. Look at the winners.

Warwick used to be the kingmaker, but now it is Cheltenham and, in particular, the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase. The timing, venue and typical ground available make tomorrow's Grade Two contest nonpareil for the advancement of the best young horses. Look at the winners.

The first victor, in 2000, under the Independent banner was Best Mate, the third Azertyuiop. In those two horses we have not only the reigning champions in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Queen Mother Champion Chase respectively, but also the two highest-rated chasers in training.

The other Independent winners have been only marginally less successful. Thisthatandtother, last year's winner, also marched towards the summit with further glories, but fell when favourite for the Arkle Chase at the Festival in March. He seeks redemption at Prestbury Park this afternoon. Seebald, the 2001 victor and runner-up to Moscow Flyer in the Arkle Chase that season, still runs and still wins.

This then is the heritage that awaits tomorrow's field of six runners, six of the best. It has become recently a Paul Nicholls race, as the trainer has won three of the last five runnings and careful scrutiny must be afforded anything the Ditcheat trainer saddles. The microscope then is on My Will, a facile winner last time and a gelding which "has the world at his feet" according to Nicholls.

It is, however, neither a one-man nor a one-beast contest. Contraband was not particularly fluent at Aintree last time, but has made his trainer most articulate. Martin Pipe considers him his banker of the meeting. Kevin Bishop's Ashley Brook set a time a second faster than Azertyuiop when they won their respective races at Exeter recently, despite being eased down. We need look no further for the key to the race.

While Ashley Brook blazes away he should set up a winning pattern for a proven stayer. Fundamentalist (2.05), Nigel Twiston-Davies's representative, confirmed his stamina by collecting the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle at the Festival. He conquered bigger obstacles at Perth and now he is on his way to bigger things.

The Greatwood Hurdle has also become a modern contest of much significance as the past three winners - Rigmarole, Rooster Booster and Westender - have all gone on to have a profound effect on the shape and result of the Champion Hurdle. All three are back tomorrow and the most likely winner is the youngest horse and therefore the most likely to be still improving. Avoid complication and stick with Rigmarole (2.40).

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