Racing: Olivier can steal applause at opening show

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The Independent Online

The first of the 210 meetings of the 2006 season takes place today at Cottenham, near Cambridge, where there are 157 entries for the seven races.

That figure is significant as it is the same number as the 2005 season despite the hunting ban which became law in February. What the ban's long-term effect will be is unclear, but although the Lincolnshire Hunts Club and West Of Yore have dropped out of the list their absence is not a direct consequence.

Those meetings have been replaced by the Radnor and West Hereford adding a day to their April date at Cold Harbour (29-30) and by the Vine and Craven, who race at Hackwood Park on Easter Monday, 17 April, staging a fixture at Barbury Castle on 18 February.

The recent rain could not have arrived at a more fortuitous time for the fast-draining Cottenham track where the going is good. There are entries from as far away as Scotland and pointing's most respected trainer, Dick Baimbridge, 441 winners to date, looks to have the day's banker with Olivier in the first maiden (1.55). This eight-year-old failed to build on the promise of his debut second in a Perth bumper, but Baimbridge has transformed horses that have shown only a smidgen of Olivier's ability.

l Racegoers should ensure they take their own liquid refreshments as there will be no public bar at Cottenham owing to complications with the new licensing laws. The bar should reopen at the 18 March meeting.