Racing: Cyfor Malta can do the Business

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WHEN THE crowds struggle away from Prestbury Park after today's card at Cheltenham, the people who are not already planning their next trip to the course will be wishing desperately that they could. After the Wragge & Co Four-Year-Old Hurdle which brings proceedings to a close, the next race at Cheltenham will be the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the opening event of the Festival itself. Many of those at the track today will be back again in March - and so, for that matter, will plenty of the horses.

When the time comes to look back on the jumps season, it will be a surprise if at least one of the Festival's 20 winners did not also run at today's meeting. In fact, there could easily be as many as four of them getting a taste for the track before the main event, such is the quality of the principal contests.

The betting for the Stayers' Hurdle in particular will depend heavily on the outcome of the Cleeve Hurdle, which brings together Lady Rebecca - most bookies' idea of the favourite for the Stayers' - face-to-face with Commanche Court, the best in this division in Ireland, and several others with the form to trouble her. The Gold Cup market, too, could look very different by this evening, after See More Business has taken on Cyfor Malta in the Pillar Property Chase.

It was this same race last year which marked out See More Business as a serious contender for the Gold Cup. He galloped straight through the fourth-last fence, losing many lengths in the process, but still had the energy and acceleration to pick up Cyborgo - an opponent again today - at the last, before quickening clear on the run-in. Cyborgo, of course, wreaked an unexpected revenge in the Gold Cup, when he broke down and carried out See More Business.

What would have become of See More Business if his luck had not turned so sour is anyone's guess, but few of his supporters can believe that he would not have finished in front of Cool Dawn, the eventual winner. His problem, though, is that while his jumping is generally sound, he has a disturbing habit of making one bad mistake in every round. Today's race, meanwhile, follows a poor showing in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, an experience in desperate ground from which he may or may not have recovered.

In the circumstances, Cyfor Malta (2.55) is the safest choice today, as he makes his first start since his successful seasonal debut in the Murphy's Gold Cup. Young, relatively unexposed and trained by Martin Pipe, he is a serious Gold Cup contender himself, and just one of a strong team from the champion trainer's yard which could dominate today's card.

Unsinkable Boxer, who runs in the novice handicap chase, is another Pipe runner who should be back for the Festival. His chasing debut was comfortable enough, but he would have beaten the same rivals just as easily over hurdles, and today's field offers a much stronger challenge.

If anything is to beat Lady Rebecca in the Cleeve Hurdle, it will probably be Commanche Court, but again, it is not really a race to bet on. The last two events, though, are more tempting, with EVEN FLOW (nap 4.05) and Behrajan (4.40) the ones to back.

The Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster offers any number of possibilities at first sight, but there may be fewer serious contenders than the size of the field suggests. The Toiseach will be the choice of many, despite his poor run in the Hennessy Gold Cup last time, but the value could lie with another horse whose last outing was a disappointment. Profluent (next best 3.10) was roundly beaten at Aintree in November, but previously looked a horse to follow when winning on his British debut. Anabranch (3.40) could be another value bet at the same meeting, while Young Tomo (1.15) and River Unshion (2.15) have good chances at Ayr.