Racing: Clock points to Majed's potential: Flakey Dove's Champion Hurdle trial may be overshadowed by a growing talent from the North

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IT IS the last call for the Festival at Newbury this afternoon, but anyone still confused about the possible winners of Cheltenham's championships will have to dig deep to find any fresh clues. Hurdlers such as Flakey Dove and Majed, and Miinnehoma in the handicap chase, are trying to prove that they deserve even to line up at Prestbury Park, far less to succeed.

It is not a belief that will appeal to ante-post supporters of Flakey Dove (1.00), currently a 20-1 chance for the Champion Hurdle, but while the mare should make short work of four rivals in the Berkshire Hurdle today, she surely does not have the pace, or the class, to follow up at the Festival.

Indeed, Majed is a more likely future champion, although given Mary Reveley's famously cautious approach he is uncertain even to run at Cheltenham. It would be a shame if he did not. Though illness and injury have restricted him to one appearance this season, his apparently humdrum defeat of Arcot in a Wetherby handicap was noted by time experts to be one of the most impressive performances of the season.

Majed (next best 12.30) is a high-class hurdler in the making, and despite his enforced absence he should defy top weight in Newbury's opener quite comfortably. Certainly, his stable could not be in better form. Few of Mrs Reveley's string escaped the virus at the turn of the year, but she saddled an across-the-cards treble yesterday and could not be finding form at a better moment. By coincidence, at Doncaster this afternoon Arcot (4.40) also races for the first time since that Wetherby handicap. He too should cement the form.

Though he has not run for 399 days, Miinnehoma needs little introduction. The Sun Alliance Chase winner two years ago, when he squeezed home after a desperate battle with Bradbury Star, Martin Pipe's chaser is still engaged in the Gold Cup.

That fact alone, though, may not mean too much. It would seem that any horse in Pipe's yard which has ever jumped a fence is still in the Festival showpiece, and 11 of the 29 left in at the last forfeit stage are in his care. The irony, given the champion trainer's well-deserved reputation for realism, is that only Run For Free and Chatam appear close to Gold Cup class. Though a back injury interrupted his second season last January, Miinnehoma's form had already started to tail off. Guiburn's Nephew (1.30), an uncertain jumper but a course specialist, may reinforce the point today.

Pipe's Festival plans suffered more setbacks yesterday, when the much-touted General Mouktar, a Triumph Hurdle candidate, was beaten at Lingfield by Collier Bay, while King's Curate, one of those Gold Cup entries, was unsighted behind Tipp Mariner in a weak handicap chase.

A more credible Cheltenham contender runs at Doncaster today. Kim Bailey's CARIBOO GOLD (nap 3.00), an entry for the Gold Card Handicap Hurdle on the opening day, has clearly been prepared to peak in March, and goes well on the prevailing good ground. On the same card, He Who Dares Wins (3.35) and Driving Force (4.05) have fair chances in difficult handicaps.

(Photograph omitted)

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