Racing: Talented Thomas to make the difference on Limerick Boy

For the first time in over 20 years a racing monarch descends from his gilded carriage, ducks under the braided rope and mixes it with the hoi polloi this afternoon. Rooster Booster runs in the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury.

You have to go back over two decades to find evidence of the reigning Champion Hurdler soiling his hooves in a handicap. That the grey does so here is of great delight to course and race management, and of great credit to Rooster Booster's trainer, Philip Hobbs.

It looks a gamble, but no great long-priced one, as the champ is third favourite in most ante-post books. In fact, it is a rather clever piece of placing by the Bilbrook trainer. The Grade Three race comes at a crucial time in Rooster Booster's Festival preparation and it will be run almost exactly to suit him, which delivers the 10-year-old decent prospects of at least picking up substantial place money.

The Tote Gold Trophy has a justifiable reputation as one of the most complex handicaps in the calendar, but Rooster Booster's mere presence makes it less so. Because he is in there, just 13 of the 25 runners remain in the handicap. In theory, half the field have no chance.

However, the historical trends also suggest that Rooster Booster himself will be fighting for only the scraps. Runners aged eight and over have virtually no chance in the contest. Indeed, the profile for winners is rather narrow, with young horses having proved their quality in the relevant season by both winning and putting up a decent run on their previous outing by far the most likely candidates. It is not a race for favourites, but then neither do outsiders have a good record either. The last 10 winners were in the first six in the betting.

Armed with this information, we can surmise that Rooster Booster's stablemate Monkerhostin, who ran well in this contest 12 months ago, is perhaps the best each-way selection. The one with ticks in all the boxes, though, is Venetia Williams's Limerick Boy (nap 2.45), the mount of the coming 5lb claimer, Sam Thomas. The six-year-old would probably prefer softer ground but that is the only small area in which his credentials can be questioned.

On a beautiful Newbury card, there will be clues forwarded for the Cheltenham Gold Cup also by activity in the Aon Chase. The favourite here will be Keen Leader, who has become enigmatic, which is dangerous for punters.

When he wins, Jonjo O'Neill's gelding looks unstoppable. When he loses, he looks unbackable and much of the problem seems to be course based. Keen Leader could not win at Cheltenham if they pulled him round in the horsebox. He has not run at Newbury before, so could well be vulnerable on this reconnaissance mission. It is not worth asking at the price.

Sir Rembrandt, another Blue Riband possible, does have form here. He fell in the Hennessy. As Robert Alner's runner also stunk the place out at Cheltenham last time, we can seek value in that most unlikely venue of Pond House. Martin Pipe's Seebald (next best 3.20) knows what he is doing round here and his trainer is not entirely ignorant either.

The Game Spirit Chase could stand alone as a feature race on most cards. Paul Nicholls dominates the race with half the field and form, history and jockey bookings suggest Azertyuiop is already past the post and conducting his post-match interviews.

There is, though, a catch. Nicholls has already conceded that his big horse is not in the sort of condition he will be whipped up to at the Festival. That leaves a glimmer of hope for Kadarann (2.10), who upset a better fancied stablemate in this 12 months ago.

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