The turf delivers little to raise the spirit, with a disappointing field for the main steeplechase of the day at Newbury and a feature race of the weekend, the Lincoln, which excites no one quite as much as the bookmakers. The motto that comes to mind is less 'come racing' and more 'go shopping'.
As a fanfare for the season, the Lincoln regularly announces despair for punters, who are asked to select from a pack of 24, closely matched handicappers in unknown states of fitness.
Favourites have a torrid record and the horse who will attempt to reverse the trend today will probably be Amazing Feat, who at least bears the credential of being saddled by a trainer in rich form, Mary Reveley. The four-year-old's supporters will be further buoyed by the fact that Amazing Feat's work partner recently has been Thursday's 2,000 Mile winner, Mellottie.
The gelding's owner, Peter Savill, reveals the horse has been in good form without doing any extravagant gymnastics on the gallops, and, perhaps most revealingly, he has not had a bet.
It would be in keeping with the nature of this race if the prize went to an unlikely source, and among the forerunners in this category is ASHDREN (nap 3.40), an inmate at Alan Harrison's 12-horse yard at Middleham.
The six-year-old runs best when fresh (he was fourth to High Low in this event last year and later ran the best race of his life when second to Consigliere in the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket after a two-month break) and has been aimed at this afternoon's encounter from some time back. 'Last year we only played with the Lincoln really and when he ran so well we immediately decided that he would come back,' Harrison said yesterday. 'This season we brought him in four weeks earlier and he is working a damn sight better than he was 12 months ago.'
At the end of a sequence which has seen him go 18 runs without reward, Ashdren is off his lowest weight for some time, and runs from a mark 8lb lower than in last year's Lincoln.
The horse himself will be lighter as he was gelded in October to counter somewhat boisterous behaviour. His home performances suggest he does not hold this against his trainer.
Another gelding, Montendre (4.15), may turn the tables on Fylde Flyer, who beat him in the Cammidge Trophy a year ago but who now re-opposes on considerably worse terms.
The first televised contest should go to Young Buster (3.00) if the form book is the sole consideration, but as Geoff Wragg's colt is a particularly recalcitrant partner and will have to overcome the vagaries of a three-runner race, confidence cannot be complete.
Shadow Jury (4.45) also proved enigmatic towards the end of last season, but is worth persevering with as he is now competing from a low shelf in the handicap and ran well in early forays last season.
At Newbury, there should be victories for the men who have been harrying Martin Pipe in the National Hunt trainers' championship this year, David Nicholson and Nigel Twiston-Davies. Nicholson saddles Formal Invitation (1.00), who is improving sufficiently to complete a hat-trick, while the Cheltenham trainer is represented by Grange Brake (1.30).
The final one for the multi-bet coupon may be another horse who has consistency as her strongest suit, Pam Sly's Ima Delight (next best 2.00).Reuse content