Lake at low odds to grip sprint title

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Lake Coniston is officially one of the finest sprinters since the War, but even after his four-length success in the July Cup at Newmarket last month, he is hardly the racing world's No 1 pin-up. Polite respect seems to be his lot, not the adulation accorded to Lochsong and Dayjur, and if attitudes are to change, they will need to do so quickly.

The Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday is expected to be Lake Coniston's final race in Britain, before an attempt on the Breeders' Cup Sprint, which brought the careers of both Lochsong and Dayjur to an unsuccessful end. He will face, at most, eight opponents in the six-furlong race, and while the field will include So Factual, who narrowly beat Lake Coniston in the Cork and Orrery Stakes at Royal Ascot, a measure of his expected superiority is Ladbrokes' opening price of 4-7.

After almost half an inch of rain at Haydock recently, the conditions could not be better for Geoff Lewis's runner, and yesterday's nine-strong entry for the Group One event seems sure to diminish still further. Lavinia Fontana, last year's winner, would need the better part of a foot of rain to get the conditions she prefers, and is expected to run instead at Baden- Baden tomorrow. Branston Abby, Princely Hush and Cool Jazz may take part, but no-one would notice if they did not, and the opposition to Lake Coniston appears to condense to four names.

So Factual, 3-1 second-favourite with Ladbrokes, took the Group One Nunthorpe Stakes over five furlongs at York two weeks ago, but is probably better at six and will be well supported to give the Godolphin team their seventh Group One prize this season.

Two other Godolphin entries were pulled out yesterday, but Sheikh Mohammed, the organisation's driving force, could also be represented by Cherokee Rose. Trained in France by John Hammond, the filly took the Group Three Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville last time out. Owington and Mind Games may also find backers, but both have plenty of ground to make up on the market leaders. Cherokee Rose and Owington can be backed at 8-1, while Mind Games is a 12-1 chance.

Blinding speed is not Vindaloo's strong point, but Jimmy Harris's handicapper more than compensates with courage and stamina, and once again today he will attempt to win his 10th handicap of the season, which would give him a 20th Century record on the Flat. The 10-furlong Steve Nesbitt Trophy at Ripon will be Vindaloo's 25th race of the campaign, but Harris has yet to see any evidence of flagging enthusiasm.

"He's in good form and he doesn't have a hard time between races, and anyway, who says horses can't stand it?" the trainer said yesterday.

"Some of them have a harder time on the gallops than he does, and as long as he's in form, we'll go on with him. If he doesn't beat the record at Ripon, then we'll probably go to York on Thursday. We won't kill him but we'll go on with him until he tells us that he's had enough."

Backers put their faith in another enduring hero yesterday, supporting Rambo's Hall, now a 10-year-old, from 20-1 to 16-1 with Ladbrokes to win next month's Cambridgeshire Handicap for the third time (he is just 14- 1 with William Hill). An early indication of the wisdom on their investment will arrive this afternoon, when Rambo's Hall takes on a field including Mellottie, another former Cambridgeshire winner, in the second race at Ripon.

If nothing else, it is encouraging that punters had anything left to play up on the ante-post market after yesterday's Bank Holiday cards. Favourites obliged in the big races at both Newcastle and Epsom, although both Bonne Etoile (Virginia Handicap) and Proton (Moet & Chandon Silver Magnum) had to survice stewards' inquiries.

Reg Akehurst, Proton's trainer, is accustomed to being described as a supreme handler of handicappers. The reputation may not survive the St Leger, however, since Akehurst has decided to supplement Jellaby Ashkir, winner of a match for the March Stakes at Goodwood on Sunday, for the final Classic. The late entry will cost pounds 17,500, but only the brave or foolish would dispute Akehurst's assessment of one of his charges.