Racing: Walsh to solve the mystery of L'Aventure

Saturdays are beginning to have a horribly familiar shape to them, horrible, that is, if you are not one of the training triumvirate of Martin Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Philip Hobbs.

Saturdays are beginning to have a horribly familiar shape to them, horrible, that is, if you are not one of the training triumvirate of Martin Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Philip Hobbs.

No-one else seems to get much of a look-in for the big weekend events and, by extension, the trainers' championship itself is a closed shop. It is short odds that both this afternoon's top baubles, the Classic Chase at Warwick and Kempton's Lanzarote Hurdle, will be collected by horses domiciled in Somerset.

Between them, the Big Three have six of the 16 runners in the Midlands feature race. Those from outside the favoured camps are led by Grattan Lodge, the winner of nine of his last 11 races for Howard Johnson, a horse beaten just once in his completed starts over fences. Merchants Friend, reported by Charlie Mann to be in the sort of form which saw him run second in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival, also possesses credentials.

Yet we must go back to the golden circle for the winner. L'Aventure (next best 3.10) is a "funny mare" according to Nicholls, but one with plenty of ability if it can be extracted. The six-year-old looked to be going nowhere in the Welsh National before finishing like a shot. She is an intriguing puzzle for Ruby Walsh to solve.

Elsewhere on the Warwick card, Nicholls gives a hurdles run-out to two horses trying to return to chasing's high echelon after injury. Heros Collonges has not been out since sluicing up in a novices' chase at Kempton almost three years ago for Guillaume Macaire. By then he was ante-post favourite for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase. Now he is back and this time he is old. Ten to be precise. More recent history suggests No Refuge (2.35) is the likely winner of this contest.

The other Manor Farm horse rising from his sickbed is Strong Flow, the Hennessy Gold Cup winner of 2003, at the time the shooting star of jump racing. The only shooting after that though was caused by pain from an injury to his near fore. Strong Flow has been off for over a year now, but, according to owner Barry Marshall, he has been setting the gallops alight. Nicholls is more circumspect, and has offered the opinion that the damage may have blunted Strong Flow's speed.

It may be prudent to side with a horse which has been slightly more active. Celtic Son (2.05) was a facile winner at Newbury on Wednesday and Pipe again rolls out the gelding.

Pipe also has prospects at Kempton, with Mondial Jack (2.50), who may even have managed to fool the great trainer. It appears the six-year-old has been running over trips outside his compass. That mistake has not been made today.

The novices' chase should provide a restorative for Made In Japan (2.20), while Pipe, once again, has the super trouper in the Lanzarote Hurdle. Royal Hector, the favourite, has won all five of his races since joining the Nicholashayne army this season, progressing from a handicap mark of 96 to 130. That is how good Pipe is. But, on this occasion, the Pond House man may have to give second best to another horse apparently soaring upwards.

Mr President is a raw young beast, one with hurdling flaws to iron out judged by his two recent displays at Leicester. That he won those appointments by 21 lengths and a distance respectively shows what the ex-German horse might be able to do when his jumping matures.

"He is fine, but this is a massive step," Venetia Williams, the trainer, said yesterday. Despite the defensive talk Williams is happy to throw in her horse. MR PRESIDENT (nap 3.25) will not do the same with his towel.

* Timmy Murphy escaped a ban at a Jockey Club inquiry yesterday but was fined £300. Murphy faced the disciplinary panel after being involved in an altercation with an official at Fontwell Park in November.

* Totesport have come up with a "tote v SP" for Kempton today. Punters placing a tote win single off-course with totesport on any of the races will be paid the difference if the SP is bigger.

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