Racing: Lord leads Pipe's troupe for finale

The name of Fred D is central to weekend racing at the moment as the circus moves on from the Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury on Saturday to the Betfred Gold Cup at Sandown in four days' time.

The latter event is run under the sponsorship of the bookmaker Fred Done, after the all too brief backing of attheraces and the long support of Whitbread. In fact, Whitbread will probably still get more name checks than the recent sponsors in betting shops around the nation in the next few days.

What is a constant about the event is that it is always a captivating race on a captivating card, adorned as it is by leading Flat races as well as the last twitching remnant of class of the National Hunt campaign.

An imagined theme to this year's running was a final high noon showdown to determine the fastest gun in the West Country between Martin Pipe and Paul Nicholls for the trainers' championship. Pipe has rather spoiled that fixture by pulling away in the lead in the last few weeks and has the thumbscrew out again this week with eight entries for the Sandown feature. Chief among them is the Grand National third, Lord Atterbury, the early ante-post favourite.

A total of 23 runners were left in the Betfred yesterday and the defections of Keen Leader, Irish Hussar and Rince Ri at the top of the handicap mean the weights will rise by 15lb, with the top weight carrying 11st 12lb.

The identity of that horse is Alexander Banquet, whose trainer, Willie Mullins, also has the Royal & SunAlliance Chase winner Rule Supreme among the contestants. The race, over three miles and five furlongs, allows the Closutton horses to atone for failures to complete at Aintree's Grand National meeting. Alexander Banquet, an 11-year-old, ran in the big race itself and appeared a little uncomfortable before falling at the 18th fence. Rule Supreme unshipped David Casey at the eighth in the Mildmay Novices' Chase, bringing jockey and any notions of his greatness after the Festival down to earth.

"They've come out of Aintree in good form. We've schooled them both and will do again tomorrow and I've been delighted with them," Mullins said.

Yet another Mullins recent capitulator could be out soon, at next week's Punchestown Festival. Hedgehunter, who appeared to collapse with exhaustion at the last fence of the Grand National, has convinced his trainer he has the reserves to go again this season. "We're going to look at something for him at Punchestown," Mullins said. "He seems to be in good form with himself and if there's a nice race with a nice weight for him we'll have to have a look."

Another Irishman, Jamie Spencer, has been afforded an unwanted day off on 2 May following his ride on Royal Tigress in the Leopardstown 1,000 Guineas Trial on Sunday. Ballydoyle's new No 1 rider was found to have used his whip incorrectly in the course of victory and his one-day punishment means he will miss the ride on Aidan O'Brien's Necklace in the 1,000 Guineas itself at Newmarket.

Britain's newest racecourse will be unveiled today with the opening of Greenside Park, William Hill's latest offering in the realm of virtual reality tracks. "There were so many enquiries from customers," David Hood, the firm's spokesman, said yesterday, "that we felt there was an obligation to provide this service."

This seemed to disregard the most widely held precept in racing: that, when it comes to obligations, the bookmakers have only one master to satisfy - themselves.

Greenside Park will be available to a 250,000 on-line client base and industry-wide turnover for the simulations (which, as life tells us, is never the same as the real thing) is expected to reach £500m by the end of the year.

* Heavy rain has forced a 7am inspection at Newcastle. Yesterday's meeting at Hexham was abandoned due to waterlogging

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