Golf teed up by Naughton

An Epsom trainer believes he can land today's big sprint. Greg Wood reports

A week ago we were worrying about the number of people at Epsom for the Derby. Seven days later, it is the equine attendance at the day's big meeting which is giving cause for concern. Four of the seven races at York this afternoon have deteriorated into four-runner non-events, despite healthy entries at the five-day stage. But then, with seven meetings today following six yesterday, perhaps we should not be surprised that horses to populate them are in such short supply.

Paranoiacs will have another explanation, pointing out that the shortage of opportunities elsewhere only concentrates attention on the bookmaker- sponsored sprint handicap. The fact that the William Hill Trophy has attracted 15 runners, which means each-way backers will draw only on the first three, apparently adds weight to the conspiracy theory. Upon closer examination, however, the shortlist of possible winners is manageable, and a worthwhile bet is not as unthinkable as it might initially appear.

The Coral Handicap at Newmarket two weeks ago is a crucial piece of form when assessing this afternoon's big race, since the first four home and three of the also-rans are again in opposition today. Perryston View completed a hat-trick that day, with Bold Effort, French Grit and Coastal Bluff close behind, but must now carry a 7lb penalty for that success which in theory gives all three every chance to reverse the form. Coastal Bluff and French Grit in particular have attracted punters' attention, and head the market at 5-1 with the sponsors.

Had it not been for a race at York's Dante meeting, though, it is quite possible that Go Hever Golf would be the favourite this afternoon. After cantering away with a handicap at Chester the previous week, Go Hever Golf could finish only 11th of 12 when stepped up to seven furlongs at York, a disappointing effort which needs explaining before he can be considered today.

Joe Naughton, Go Hever Golf's trainer, is nothing if not convincing. "I ran him a bit too quickly, he didn't appreciate the seven furlongs and the ground was a bit sticky," Naughton said yesterday. "I think six furlongs is as far as he wants to go and hopefully it'll be genuine fast ground at York. He's nice and fresh and he's ready to go."

Naughton believes Coastal Bluff and Geoff Wragg's Stylish Ways are his most serious rivals today. "At Chester ours was the one to beat as he was well-handicapped, but now Stylish Ways is on a rating of 100 but I've got to give it 3lb tomorrow." Go Hever Golf, who is running off 94, should therefore be getting 6lb from Stylish Ways on current ratings. None the less, from a good draw near the stands' rails, Go Hever Golf (3.45) must have every chance of going one better than his full sister Hever Golf Rose, a short-head runner-up in this race 12 months ago.

The Queen Mother's Cup, for lady amateur riders, has cut up from an initial entry of 16, but the standard advice in such contests - back Lydia Pearce no matter what she's riding - still applies, and Slasher Jack (3.15) even though Amancio apparently has better recent form. Try Zamalek (4.15) in another embarrassing field for the Daniel Prenn Stakes, and Sycamore Lodge, in the 17-runner handicap half an hour later.

But a more rewarding task, perhaps, is to study the early betting for Wednesday's Coronation Stakes over a mile at Royal Ascot. Harayir, the 1,000 Guineas winner, Ridgewood Pearl, who beat her in the Irish equivalent at The Curragh three weeks later, and Criquette Head's Macoumba, are among the entries for the Group One event.

Harayir is favoured in the betting since the current fast ground at Ascot may not suit Ridgewood Pearl, but punters should be aware that rain is forecast in the coming days.

CORONATION STAKES (Ladbrokes' odds): 9-4 Harayir, 7-2 Ridgewood Pearl, 9-2 Macoumba, 5-1 Smolensk, 12-1 Warning Shadows, Myself and Gay Gallanta, 14-1 bar.

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