Racing: Polar Force can reward Fanshawe's patience

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The Independent Online

Hopes linger of a reprieve for racing on Channel 4, with its latest "final" deadline for a deal now set for Wednesday. In the meantime you could not really measure how much undoubtedly lies at stake from what is screened today.

Hopes linger of a reprieve for racing on Channel 4, with its latest "final" deadline for a deal now set for Wednesday. In the meantime you could not really measure how much undoubtedly lies at stake from what is screened today.

Much quality is necessarily squeezed out of the Saturday between Epsom and the royal meeting, though, in point of fact, none of the three-year-old handicaps at York next week is worth a penny more than the big race at Ripon today.

Royal Ascot certainly knows how to trade on its kudos. The Britannia Handicap, for instance, is worth £50,000. Why should anyone be expected to treat it as a greater priority than the Totesport Silver Bowl at Haydock, which last month carried a total prize fund of £90,000?

Even so, there is little point pretending that the winner of a sprint handicap at Ripon will bestride the racing weekend. That honour will instead be obtained overseas, either in the Prix de Diane or the 137th running of the Belmont Stakes. In the Chantilly forest tomorrow, Divine Proportions must find stamina to match her flair in her first venture beyond a mile. Over in New York, meanwhile, the final leg of the Triple Crown allows Afleet Alex to confirm himself the champion American colt of his generation.

Reckless pursuit of a runaway pace almost certainly cost him the Kentucky Derby, in which he bravely clung on to third while Giacomo gratefully emerged from obscurity to pick up the pieces. The pair exchanged places in a memorably rough race for the Preakness Stakes a fortnight later, when Afleet Alex was all but brought to his knees on the home turn before taking flight, going five lengths lengths clear.

Success in the Belmont would qualify him as yet another Triple Crown winner that got away. It is now 28 years since Affirmed, and it would be easy to blame the infirmities of modern American stallions, masked during their racing careers by the use of drugs. But the fact is that one horse has won two Triple Crown races in eight of the last 10 years, a very respectable endeavour within its five-week span - not least when it is preceded by a punishing series of trials in the spring. The Belmont represents a gruelling climax, as the one American race capable of tempting a future stallion to run a mile and a half on dirt.

Afleet Alex must have a remarkable constitution simply to absorb his training regime. Earlier in the week Tim Ritchey, an old-school horseman on the Midwest circuit, sent him three miles round Belmont on the hottest morning of the summer so far. Following the homespun joys of Smarty Jones and Funny Cide, the Americans have had another very sentimental journey with this colt, who was named in honour of Alexandra Scott. Diagnosed with cancer as a baby, Alex was four when she had the idea of opening a lemonade stall to raise funds for her hospital.

Though she died at eight, the lemonade stall survives and has become the focus of $1.6m (£883,000) in donations - including a share of Afleet Alex's earnings.

Those seeking to raise funds in the feature race at Ripon may find it hard to resist Viking Spirit, who made such a worthy return against older horses, but it may be worth taking a chance at bigger odds with Woodcote (3.25). This bull of a horse showed promise in a light campaign last year, winning his maiden and then placed in listed company, but was too keen over seven furlongs on his return and then floundered in heavy ground at Lingfield.

Best bet at Sandown may be another lightly raced sort in Polar Force (2.35). Handled with typical patience by James Fanshawe, he has responded with improvement in each of his five runs to date, latterly when just failing to get up in a similar race at Newmarket. Though raised another 5lb for that, he retains scope for further progress and should relish the stiff finish here.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Gig Harbour (Ripon 2.50)

NB: Resplendent Glory (Sandown 3.45)

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