Racing: La Landiere expected to blossom

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Girl power is fancied to prevail again at Kempton on Saturday. La Landiere, winner of the Racing Post Chase 12 months ago, was the best-backed horse for the Grade 3 three-miler yesterday and, with doubts over the participation of the current favourite Irish Hussar, may head the market for the £100,000 Sunbury feature by the off. She has been cut to 5-1 in most lists, the same price as when she beat Gunther McBride last year.

La Landiere was on a roll then; the victory was her sixth in a row and she went on to beat Irish Hussar in the Cathcart Cup at Cheltenham. But that was the nine-year-old's most recent victory. In her first two outings this year she was found wanting when pitted against the best; a fourth place in mud she hated at Huntingdon behind Jair du Cochet was followed by a sixth to Edredon Bleu in the King George VI Chase.

But last month, back in handicap company, she showed signs of a return to form when third to another of Saturday's fancied contenders, Hunters Tweed, over two miles and five furlongs at Cheltenham. "I was pleased with that run," said trainer Richard Phillips yesterday, "and Richard [Johnson] said she showed her old sparkle. She was staying on well and she might need further as she's getting older, so the return to three miles should be in her favour.

"And we get a handy pull in the weights with that winner this time. Mind you, it was hard enough to win the Kempton race once, let alone do it twice."

Although La Landiere's seven-timer last season straddled the seasons as she shot up the rankings, it would be no surprise to see her begin to blossom at this time of year.

"It may be a cliché that mares come to themselves in the spring," said Phillips, "but it's true. It's not just that they like the sun on their backs, we all like that. It's a hormonal thing."

Though La Landiere is the best chasing mare in training, she is a long way short of the best but that does not make her unusual among her sex. In contrast to another sport which involves obstacle leaping, show-jumping, where world-class mares are as prevalent as males, there have historically been very few top-class steeplechase mares. "It may be down to numbers," said Phillips, "there are fewer of them in this sport, so fewer good ones."

The dearth of numbers in the jumping game may be a function of size; females tend to be smaller than males. Phillips also brings another thought to the equation. "Maybe it's a mental thing too," he said. "Racing is a hard sport and maybe thoroughbred mares have got it right. You have to be a bit more stupid to go through that pain barrier." There are no worries on either score for La Landiere, however. "She's a great big rangy individual," he added. "She's like a bloke you'd go down the pub with."

There was mixed news on the jockey front yesterday. Tony McCoy returns to action at Ludlow this afternoon after nine days on the easy list following the horror fall at Plumpton in which he fractured his cheekbone. "My cheek is a bit black and yellow still but it is alright," McCoy said yesterday. "My face wasn't ever really sore, but I had to take a break and do the right thing."

With all three of Nicky Henderson's recognised riders out of action - Marcus Foley and Andrew Tinkler have joined Fitzgerald on the injured list - two of McCoy's mounts are for Seven Barrows, Ken'tucky and Kercabellec. McCoy said. "Ken'tucky won well at the track last time and probably looks the best ride that I have got."

On the Flat, Johnny Murtagh ends a four-month absence from the saddle with his first rides at Lingfield tomorrow. Appropriately, the Irish jockey's opening mount will be his first as stable jockey to Newmarket trainer David Loder.

Less happily, Fran Ferris, 22, yesterday started a four-month prison sentence after admitting dangerous driving and driving with excess alcohol. The Irishman is not currently licensed as a jockey as, being an apprentice, he has to be with a trainer to be so and left Newmarket handler Phil McEntee last month.

Racing in brief: Tompkins' Babodana attracts significant support for Lincoln

* Babodana, trained by Mark Tompkins, has been supported for the Lincoln at Doncaster on 27 March with Ladbrokes. The four-year-old is now 20-1 from 25-1, having been as big as 40-1 when the firm first opened their book on the Town Moor feature. "He is the first springer in the market, so it will be interesting to see if the money proves to be a sound pointer," said Balthazar Fabricius, of Ladbrokes.

* Ludlow officials are confident that today's meeting will go ahead, despite a precautionary 7.30am inspection because of the threat of frost. The clerk of the course, Bob Davies, said: "We have to have a look given the forecast but I don't honestly think there will be any problems."

* Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Beef Or Salmon will work after racing at Limerick tomorrow. Michael Hourigan, his trainer, said: "There is no sign of the muscle injury which hindered him earlier in the season."