Racing: Maximize tuned up to land main event

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The Independent Online

In terms of the relationship between racing, which could be regarded as the Formula One end of equine sport, and eventing, which is more like rallying, horses usually do the high-octane business first before switching to the roads and tracks. The annals of eventing are littered with the names of ex-racers who have adapted successfully. But very few do it the other way round, which gives Maximize his own little niche.

In terms of the relationship between racing, which could be regarded as the Formula One end of equine sport, and eventing, which is more like rallying, horses usually do the high-octane business first before switching to the roads and tracks. The annals of eventing are littered with the names of ex-racers who have adapted successfully. But very few do it the other way round, which gives Maximize his own little niche.

Lady Vestey, sister of Maximize's trainer, Henrietta Knight, bought the gelding for just 1,000 guineas at Doncaster Sales as a four-year-old and sent him to the Borders yard of the Olympic rider Ian Stark, for whom he picked up places in all three of his pre-novice one-day events the following spring. Paul Graham, his rider then, recalls: "He was a very workable sort of horse, with a very good attitude. Sometimes when they come from the sales they are a bit uptight, but Maximize was a dopey sort that you could do anything with, very obliging.

"He was always a very neat jumper and had a high cruising speed. The extra gear was always there if you needed it." In truth, pre-novice events are not very taxing and Maximize revealed his true future when he won a point-to-point easily as a five-year-old.

After that, Lady Vestey redirected him to West Lockinge. "I think Ian realised he wasn't going to make a Badminton horse," said Knight, "and once he looked like a racehorse in that point-to-point, that was it. But his eventing upbringing has stood him in good stead. He has lovely manners, is very sensible and jumps in a beautifully rounded way."

Kempton's lightning-fast turns and challenging lines of birch are a world away from toddling round tiger traps and ditches on parkland at Skipton and Armatwaite but Maximize has already shown he can cope admirably, most notably last season when he took the Grade One Feltham Novices' Chase over the distance of today's Racing Post Chase.

Maximize was not one of the very best of the first-season brigade, but he was smart enough to complete in sixth place in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at Cheltenham, where neither course, distance, nor going suited him.

He has not won since the Feltham, but a return to his favourite track and his favoured faster ground should work the oracle. After two respectable preps, Maximize (next best 3.05), who is still open to improvement, comes to the Racing Post Chase fresh and well and on a handy mark and his front-running style can draw the sting from the Martin Pipe pair Montreal, who is Tony McCoy's selected mount, and Chicuelo.

The Festival is now just 17 days away but clues are still available. The favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, Saintsaire (2.30), puts his credentials rather defiantly on the line against six rivals in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, having been beaten last time out at Cheltenham after a scintillating British debut.

There was much nonsense aired before and after his third to Moneytrain and Don Fernando, including the idiotic suggestion that the fact that he had lost as a drifting 6-4 favourite gave credence to unsubstantiated pre-race rumours about his being lame. He was unsuited by the slow pace and sticky ground and it would be perfect justice if he can confirm today that he is the real deal.

The ill wind syndrome may apply this afternoon to Henry Daly, whose charge Hand Inn Hand (1.55) should have contested a two-mile race at abandoned Warwick yesterday. The Alflora gelding turns out instead for the Pendil Novices' Chase over what may prove to be, on the prevailing ground, a more suitable two and a half miles. Epervier D'Or, another Warwick refugee, is smart too, but Hand Inn Hand may have most to fear from Scots Grey, a winner over course and distance earlier this month.

Under The Sand (3.35) can take the afternoon's feature handicap hurdle but the best best of the day comes on top of the sand at Lingfield. PRETENCE (nap 2.45) may need his headgear to help his concentration but time may show that he was thrown in today.

* Frost threatens today's cards at Musselburgh and Huntingdon. Both hinge on inspections, but at Kempton, where racing went ahead yesterday only after three inspections, no problems are expected as temperatures are forecast to rise to as high as 10 degrees. Yesterday's Warwick card was lost to frost and Ayr will check the track at 10am today for tomorrow's fixture.

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