Racing: Tiutchev can thrive on his return to familiar territory

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The punters' dream, a visit to the future, is available at Ascot this afternoon. The hereafter - and before excitement gets too inflated it must be pointed out that this is not a vehicle for raising winnings - is the Grade One Ascot Chase run over nearly two and a half miles.

It is not a frequently contested distance for the land's leading chasers, but that may soon change as the extension of the Cheltenham Festival to four days next year means a race such as this is likely to become woven into the Cotswolds fabric.

In that instance, the Ascot Chase will become an increasingly significant contest, a valuable one in itself with £100,000 in guaranteed prize-money and one positioned neatly in the calendar as a trial for Festival "in-between" horses. Races over 20 furlongs attract specialists. It could even become a cult. A shining new future starts here.

The reality is that this distance usually attracts horses stepping up from two miles and trying to eke out their speed. It is an oddity of today's race that perhaps the three outstanding entries are descending in trip after an assault on the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

Kempton appeared to be proof positive that both Fondmort and Le Roi Miguel will find today's distance their optimum. Fondmort has already proved that on the track, in victory in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham's Open meeting, while Le Roi Miguel has stamped a similar thought in the mind of his trainer, Paul Nicholls.

The last of today's big three, Tiutchev, was the most surprising at Sunbury, the most doubtful of stayers who nevertheless managed to flog himself into second behind Edredon Bleu.

That was not even meant to be the 11-year-old's target. This is. Tiutchev (2.35) collected the Ascot Chase last year and in 2001. Only age is against him now.

The big-race selection is trained by Martin Pipe, who always takes an interest in the card's preceding race, a valuable handicap hurdle. That knowledge means there is a persuasive look about Neutron (2.00), who has not run for nearly a year but looks the type to go on to the Imperial Cup, the County Hurdle, or both.

The leading trainer to follow at Uttoxeter is Jonjo O'Neill. In the first, his Very Optimistic (1.10) can create a similar feeling in those who back him. The six-year-old beat Accipiter eased down at Haydock last time, and the runner-up has won twice since.

The National Trial is going to be a brute of a race, three and a half miles over virtual porridge, and the Jackdaws Castle trainer has not left himself thin on the horrible ground in an effort to retain the marathon he won last year with Mini Sensation.

O'Neill's trio is composed of Native Emperor, Joss Naylor and World Wide Web, and the last-named, the property of JP McManus, is likely to start favourite. Joss Naylor (next best 2.15) though, is likely to win. The nine-year-old was second, albeit a respectful second, to Strong Flow in the Hennessy, even though the ground was not soft enough for him that day. No such excuse can be made here.

O'Neill should also have a bearing on events at Doncaster, where Diamant Noir (2.05) would be going for a five-timer had it not been for the Herculean task she was set at Huntingdon in November.

The big race on Town Moor is the Great Yorkshire Chase, which, for some reason, they are calling by another name this season. The notables here are led by Magical Bailiwick, who gave Tony McCoy his 2,000th winner at Wincanton two weeks ago. The horse is not doing too badly himself having won his last four, but this competitive event looks a likely terminus.

There are misgivings also about the other form horse in Rodalko, who will have his erratic jumping put to the test by some old lags. Foremost among those with the T-shirts are Lord Noelie and the lightly weighted Tonoco (nap 3.15), who was placed in this last year and is now just running into form.

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