Racing Commentary: Flat pack shuffled by Hustler: An unlikely pretender has come of age and looks ready to stake a claim to jumping's crown in the King George

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IT WAS an afternoon for making a bonfire of breeding catalogues at Ascot on Saturday as three races were won by horses born for the Flat's fastest lane.

The manner of victory for Easy Buck, Absalom's Lady and Young Hustler was quintessential of the National Hunt horse, as they slogged their way grittily through sodden ground. However, when these three were conceived it was with the notion that they would be bursting out of starting stalls, over sprint distances and under burning skies.

Easy Buck is by Swing Easy, who won a clutch of sprint Group races for Jeremy Tree and Lester Piggott at the beginning of the 1970s, Absalom's Lady's father is the 1978 Ladbroke Sprint Cup winner, Absalom, while Young Hustler's sire is Import, the winner of the Wokingham Stakes and the Stewards' Cup almost 20 years ago.

Further proof that those in the mating game seem to have as much control over what they create as Dr Frankenstein should not be surprising. The greatest names this sport has ever produced have all been freaks of nature.

'Just look at Arkle, Red Rum and Desert Orchid, our three great horses,' Peter Scudamore, assistant and business partner to Young Hustler's trainer, Nigel Twiston- Davies, said yesterday. 'There is only Arkle out of them who was even bred to be a steeplechaser, and he wasn't bred to be a very good one.'

Young Hustler has been deceiving Scudamore since the September day he finished down the field at Bangor. 'I came back and told Nigel in the weighing room afterwards that because the horse was by Import he obviously didn't get any trip at all,' the former champion jockey added. 'I said he was basically disappointing and no good. We more or less gave up on him.

'But after that he won a race for Chris Maude and he's hardly been out of the first three ever since.'

Young Hustler, Saturday's Betterware Cup winner, is deceptive on several levels. Not only do the genes say he should be a sprinter, but so do his appearance and behaviour. 'He looks like a sprinter, a square, solid little thing with immense strength and a thick neck, and he's also a bouncy horse,' Scudamore said. 'In fact, in the yard he's known as Moony, short for moonbeam. In human terms, you would say he is full of himself.'

'Moony' attracted several more disciples over the weekend and is now third favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on 27 December, behind The Fellow and Barton Bank.

Perhaps most significantly of all, the chestnut has now convinced those at Twiston- Davies's Gloucestershire yard that he is more than just an honest tradesman. Scudamore said. 'Some of the others may not have performed up to their billing yesterday but he had them strung out and it was a very impressive performance.'

Young Hustler is also down to 14-1 generally for the Gold Cup and a second win at the Cheltenham Festival, where he took the Sun Alliance Novice Chase in March at the end of an arduous season.

The programme of 15 runs (eight of which were successful) is unlikely to be repeated. 'He proved his toughness in his novice season, but we're not taking that for granted this year,' Scudamore said.

Young Hustler may, though, be taking on more opponents than was visualised at Sunbury, following yesterday's news that Rolling Ball and Travado were likely to be in the line-up.

Rolling Ball, a 14-1 chance with Coral, had been expected to go for the Welsh National at Chepstow, for which he had been ante-post favourite, but a spokeswoman for his trainer, Martin Pipe, said the gelding would probably be rerouted to Kempton.

Travado has been left in the Castleford Chase at Wetherby, but only as a precaution in case the ground comes up heavy for the King George. 'Travado is very well and the plan is to run in the King George, but I wouldn't want it to be a slog,' Nick Henderson, the gelding's trainer, said yesterday.

If Travado is not victorious, Henderson will not have just himself to blame, as the Lambourn man appears to have consulted everyone bar Russell Grant about the seven- year-old's prospects. 'It was a difficult decision to make,' he said. 'I spoke to his jockey, Jamie Osborne, the owners and various other advisers before making up my mind.'

KING GEORGE VI CHASE (Kempton, 27 December): Coral: 9-4 The Fellow, 11-4 Barton Bank, 5-1 Young Hustler, 6-1 Bradbury Star, 7-1 Black Humour, 8-1 Travado, 12-1 bar. Ladbrokes: 9-4 The Fellow, 3-1 Barton Bank, 4-1 Young Hustler, 8-1 Black Humour & Bradbury Star, 12-1 Travado, 14-1 bar.

(Photograph omitted)