Oats masters the mud

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It took two inspections, the last early yesterday morning, to give this New Year's Eve meeting the final go ahead, much to the delight of a festive crowd. But the celebrants would not have included the bookmakers, who had to suffer the victories of several favourites, the most notable of which was Master Oats in the re-scheduled Coral Welsh National.

True, the layers had escaped a scalping when the original fixture at Chepstow was cancelled last Tuesday, having taken many ante-post bets at 20-1 on the eight-year-old chestnut gelding. These wagers were rendered void for yesterday but, at 5-2 joint favourite, Master Oats still recorded an emphatic and profitable win on his favoured heavy going. He was duly installed as favourite - 10-1 with both Ladbrokes and Hills - for the 1995 Grand National, having disappointed supporters last year with his fall at the 13th fence at Aintree.

The trainer Kim Bailey will also retain the option of letting the horse take his chance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, if the going is suitably moist. "He's a very good horse on soft ground," Bailey said yesterday, while the winning jockey Norman Williamsonconfirmed "that if the conditions were like this afternoon we'd have to consider the Gold Cup." Anyone with a long-range weather forecast for mid-March can get on at 16-1 with Ladbrokes.

Those who doubt Master Oats' abilities will cite the sad injury to his chief rival Lord Relic, which took him out on the first circuit. Party Politics, Chatam and Dakyns Boy were all prominent on the long haul, but when Dakyns Boy and Chatam fell in the straight, Earth Summit was left to take up the challenge. But Master Oats, who had been "dossing" according to his trainer, now surged clear to take the £24,000 first prize.

The remarkable co-operation which allowed the Welsh National to be re-routed to Newbury involved the British Horse Racing Board, the racecourse executive, two rival bookmakers Coral and Ladbrokes, not to mention the owners and trainers. In the past, it would have needed someone of the stature of Jimmy Carter to bring these elements together, and the Herculean task of rounding-up a quorum of Jockey Club members over Christmas, when most are away in Barbados or South Africa, would have been beyond even him.

But these are, necessarily, changing times in the racing world. The old complacency is being blown away by the recognition that the industry must have a more business-like approach if it is to survive the competition from theme parks and other tawdry distractions.

Before Master Oats had his day, the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle over two miles, five furlongs looked destined to go to the Oliver Sherwood-trained Berude Not To, who was unbeaten in his five races so far. The stable had won this race last year with Large Action and history was duly repeated.

Great Marquess, owned in partnership by the Liverpool footballers Jan Molby and Ian Rush - if horses look like their owners then Molby has the back end and Rushie the nose - tried to make all. But, at the second last, he was collared by Berude Not To, who had looked in trouble on the turn, but who now cruised home by five lengths under Jamie Osborne.

The trainer Oliver Sherwood was pleased - "He's done it nicely, but a good horse will go in any ground" - and confirmed the five-year-old will have one more run, possibly at Wincanton, before going for the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Osborne completed a quick double when he produced the well-backed Yorkshire raider Lo Stregone - 4-1 co-favourite from a morning price of 7-1 - with a well-timed run at the third last in the Ladbroke Gold Cup Handicap Chase. His market rival Don't Tell The Wife unseated hs rider just as he was challenging, and Osborne was able to coast clear of Over The Deel, and looked to have plenty in reserve for greater distances, perhaps even for the Grand National. But Master Oats will have a big say about that.