Racing: Billy can breathe life into Chandler: Initiative in rescuing the day's feature chase from the weather has not been rewarded, but an ill wind may blow backers some good

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The Independent Online
INITIATIVE has been absent from British racing for so long that its arrival this week took trainers by surprise.

A new spirit of dynamism seemed to be released when the British Horseracing Board sanctioned the switching of today's Victor Chandler Chase from Ascot, which was abandoned yesterday, to Warwick, where there are now no plans for an inspection after a fine day yesterday.

The Channel 4 racing team continued the resourcefulness by agreeing to extend their coverage at a track which was last televised in 1984, but ultimately the nation's trainers have pricked the swelling balloon of enterprise. When the field trots out for action at the Midlands course today, there will be just four horses, representing three trainers.

All looked rosier earlier this week with a tantalising contest in prospect. But then Deep Sensation was re-routed to attend what was a virtual prize-giving ceremony for him at Wincanton, David Nicholson withdrew Wonder Man because of the ground and Storm Alert dropped out of calculations yesterday.

On his morning rounds, Andy Turnell, the trainer of the last-named, found a horse who looked as though he had spent the night with Oliver Reed. A sickly Storm Alert was scoped and is believed to be in the early grip of the virus.

One of today's runners, Waterloo Boy, has had his share of illness this season, and the gelding's fibrillating heart problems will at least have given him an insight into how punters feel in a close finish. Despite these worries, he still looks better than both his stablemate Viking Flagship and Egypt Mill Prince, who has endured much hard racing already this season.

It is a measure of the misgivings about his rivals that Billy Bathgate is favourite for the race despite being 7lb out of the handicap. The latest effort from a gelding who is prone to hyperventilation was breathtaking in another sense, when he thrashed a decent field at Ascot. If he can keep the pipes clear, Billy Bathgate (1.40) will win again.

The following event does not look the most compelling for serious punters as it features 30 runners on soft ground. This will mean a good price, however, about FOX CHAPEL (nap 2.10), who was quick enough to win in Wellington weather at Royal Ascot as a three-year-old and who lies on a persuasive handicap mark.

The last of the handicap chases should go to Richville (3.10), who is improving in trampoline bounds, while elsewhere this is the card of the returning sons. Don Valentino leads out the old boys when he resumes competition in the novice chase after an absence of almost two years. Jenny Pitman's nine-year-old, a former winner of the Welsh Champion Hurdle, has been schooling with Toby Tobias, but will be hard pressed to cope with Jolly Jaunt (1.10).

King's Curate, the former Stayers' Hurdle winner at Cheltenham, returns to the track for the Warwick National, and will be accompanied by his stablemate, Chatam. Martin Pipe, their trainer, said both horses were 'very well', during one of his more chatty moments this week.

Pipe is still wary of journalists after he found Roger Cook filling the doorframe one day, and he times calls to his home as well as revealing little more than is already in the form book. Pipe tells us of Chatam that 'he had only four runs last season, finishing a good fourth first time out in the Hennessy', and that King's Curate 'ran three races over fences at Ayr in the 1991-92 season and won a novice chase there before finishing second to Jodami'. Illuminating stuff.

The form book does hold the key to this race, however, as it shows that Cool Ground is now off a winning mark. It took the handicapper some time to work out that the gelding's 1992 Gold Cup was a singular victory and until just over a year ago he was competing off a mark of 167. Now down 22lb from that point, Cool Ground (next best 2.40) finally has conditions again in his favour.

The most remarkable comeback story today, however, belongs to South Parade, who has spent the last three years as a police horse after being invalided out of Toby Balding's yard. The 10-year-old returns in the handicap hurdle and will be easily recognisable to Arsenal fans, as he was the horse that started going berserk on the Caledonian Road in North London. 'Latterly he lost his nerve and when the crowd bore down on him he wanted to go back to a racing stable,' Balding said. 'I don't think he likes crowds.' Maybe, then, he should be running at Southwell today, where an all-weather card featuring 36 runners may struggle to attract as many racegoers.

(Photograph omitted)

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