Racing: Paddy's Return to hunt down his rivals

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The Independent Online

It is knee-deep-in-foxhounds time at Cheltenham once again today, as the first afternoon of the Open meeting at jumping's headquarters styles itself "Countryside day" for the 15th year in a row.

It is knee-deep-in-foxhounds time at Cheltenham once again today, as the first afternoon of the Open meeting at jumping's headquarters styles itself "Countryside day" for the 15th year in a row. As ever, race-goers who feel that fox hunters use racing as a convenient piece of cover for their deeply unpleasant activities would be well advised to watch the racing in their local betting shop instead, unless they are simply too intrigued by the prospect of "simulated whippet coursing" on the Members' Lawn at 12.30pm. What, pray, is a simulated whippet?

The one consolation for those who object to huntin' types hitching their wagon to a perfectly good day's racing is that if the Government retains even a shred of honesty (and the latest betting is about 6-4 against) then this may be the last, or at least the penultimate, Countryside day. They will then be able to enjoy the unique delights of Cheltenham's cross-country course, which has matured into a thing of some beauty, without being blinded by all the hunting pink.

The latest renewal of the Sporting Index Chase is arguably the most interesting yet, with four runners from the Czech Republic, including Sankt Moritz, who was fifth in the Velka Pardubicka over the similar – though far more intimidating – course at Pardubice last time out.

The home team is led by Galapiat Du Mesnil, who finished second to Supreme Charm in this race 12 months ago, while Frileux Royal is another with form over cross-country courses. Village King, third in last season's Uttoxeter's National Trial, and Paddy's Return, who was third in Beau's Whitbread Gold Cup, add more strength in depth.

The puzzle, or rather, the great imponderable in this race is how a horse like Paddy's Return, who won the Triumph Hurdle and was placed in the Stayers', will adapt to this fresh challenge. Galapiat Du Mesnil has done it all before and it was no surprise to find him priced up as the 11-4 joint-favourite with Village King by the sponsors yesterday. This contest is generally run at a very steady pace, however, and if Paddy's Return can stick with the leaders, his touch of class could make all the difference when they return to the racecourse proper for the final two furlongs.

Some punters may take a chance with one of the Czech runners, in the belief that their specialist knowledge will make the difference, but Czech horses are generally embarrassed on their travels. At odds of around 7-2, it should pay to take a chance that PADDY'S RETURN (nap, 2.55) will rise to the challenge.

The most interesting event on the undercard is the novice hurdle, which includes a challenger from Ireland, Anxious Moments, who carries the green and gold colours of JP McManus. He made a winning debut as a hurdler at Cork this month. The merit of his success is hard to judge, but he needs to be very decent if he is to give 3lb to Midland Flame (next best, 2.20), trained by Henrietta Knight.

The same trainer will also fancy the chance of Southern Star (3.30) in the novice chase, which was won 12 months ago by Sackville. Southern Star looked as good as any staying novice seen out this season when winning over the course and trip last month, and on a line through Lucky Clover, who was 28 lengths away in second, has little to fear from Manx Magic, who beat the same horse by 16 lengths in June.

The amateurs are best left to their own devices in the opener, but the two-mile handicap chase could be a good opening for Ichi Beau (1.45), a promising third at Wetherby on his seasonal debut.