Racing: Kew Green gamble hopes hinge on rain

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The Independent Online

Competitive handicaps are the stuff of gambles as the needy and greedy think they espy a route to riches that requires only a phone call, a click of the mouse or a stroll to the local betting shop. As far as Saturday's Cambridgeshire is concerned the horse for money yesterday, in a punt moving rather more swiftly than those on the Cam, was Kew Green, halved in price from 16-1 to 8-1 favouritism in one bookmaker's ante-post list.

The seven-year-old rattled up a hat-trick in the spring, culminating in an easy defeat of last year's Cambridgeshire winner Spanish Don in a good-class handicap over Saturday's course and distance. And though he has not been seen in public since disappointing when favourite at Epsom on Oaks day, he was given a vote of confidence yesterday by big-race jockey Dane O'Neill. "It is a tough race to win," he said, "but he goes there very well. We are hopeful of a big run."

Kew Green, who is set to carry 9st 7lb, hails from Paul Webber's mixed Banbury yard and although his Newmarket victory in May represented his trainer's most recent Flat success, only a few from Cropredy Lawn have run on the level since and the establishment's jumpers are certainly in form, with a 75 per cent strike rate this month.

The first leg of the traditional Autumn Double has long been the target for Kew Green, who can best express his talents on a soft surface. "After Epsom, I gave him a break with the intention of bringing him back for the Cambridgeshire," said Webber. "He likes a bit of cut in the ground and with any luck we will get it."

If the forecasters are right, Kew Green and his fans will indeed find conditions to their liking. Conditions on the Rowley Mile course could ease ahead of the three-day Cambridgeshire meeting, which starts on Thursday.

The going remains good but rain is forecast for tonight and later in the week. "The days are forecast to be dry this week, but there are fronts due to pass through on three evenings, each of which could bring up to six millimetres of rain," said Michael Prosser, the clerk of the course.

"The ground is perfect out there at the moment and we'll obviously have to wait and see how much rain actually materialises."

Outsiders, though, win more often than favourites; witness 12 months ago when Spanish Don, at 100-1, became the joint longest-priced winner in the nine-furlong cavalry-charge's 163-year history. Only seven market leaders have been successful since the war, the last, eight years ago, being 4-1 shot Pasternak, who did enhance many bank balances.

The last top-weight to win a Cambridgeshire was Cap Juluca, who carried a post-war record 9st 10lb ten years ago. The horse at the top of the pile this time is four-year-old Momtic, set to carry the same burden on Saturday after winning three from seven this term.

"He's earned it," said trainer William Jarvis. "He's been competitive and consistent and is in the form of his life but it would need a career-best performance to win this one. He's improved considerably but eventually the handicapper gets them all."

Momtic, who will be ridden by handicap ace Alan Munro, has been unplaced only twice this year, at Kempton and Newmarket in races won by none other than Kew Green. "He's the horse I fear," added Jarvis.

In a race with a safety limit of 30, 75 were declared at yesterday's penultimate stage, including other well-fancied ones like Blue Monday, last year's beaten favourite Pedrillo and Ashkal Way, who must satisfy in a workout tomorrow to take part.

Going and luck in running apart, the other imponderable not yet in the equation is the draw, a factor that could thwart both layout and outlay.

Last year's renewal of the race was a rarity, in that the first three home raced from low-numbered stalls on the stands side. A single-figure draw is normally a kiss of misfortune, having yielded no other win and only five other places in the past 10 years.