Racing: Dashing speed to deliver on road to rematch

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THEY ARE giving away much at Ascot today. Santa will be parading in front of the stands after the second race and dispensing sweets to the attendant children. This may well swell the infant members of the crowd but the confection for the sporting elders is over pounds 150,000 in prize- money, spread over six races. Even so, this is not proving much of an attraction. There are just 40 runners declared at the Queen's course today which would be disappointing were it not that the number is considerable by Ascot standards.

Douglas Erskine-Crum, the Ascot manager, has just returned from a trip to Hong Kong, where people go on a waiting list to own a racehorse, and he must be rather puzzled why those that can have one more freely in his orbit choose not to frequent Ascot.

"There are perceptions in National Hunt racing which are deeply held and it is difficult to shift people from those assumptions even if they are not correct," he said yesterday. "One is that certain courses have severe fences [Ascot and Haydock feature here] and another is that the handicapper will zap you at some tracks, that if you run well against a hot-shot you will be handicapped to the hilt. The BHB assures us that this is not happening.

"It is disheartening when you stand in the parade ring with a sponsor who has put up a five-figure sum and there are only four runners."

Erskine-Crum has played with the sweeties of trainers' prizes and appearance money to little avail and must try to convince everyone that quality performs as some sort of substitute for quantity. "I'm very satisfied about tomorrow. There are some smashing horses running," he said.

This cannot be denied. The formally outstanding Red Blazer goes in the first, while, in the second, Monsignor (1.10) will have to come to terms with the fact that he is no longer a pack animal. The winner of March's Cheltenham bumper is considered a Gold Cup contender in the making but he is rapidly becoming established as a hurdler of substance on the way.

Mark Pitman, Monsignor's trainer, is still hoping that his Princeful will one day gain the crown which his name suggests. That gelding displayed what a capricious sport jumping can be when he won a thrilling Long Walk Hurdle 12 months ago, but was then badly damaged on his chasing debut.

Deano's Beeno (2.20), who made last year's Long Walk such a memorable contest, is back for another stab today and should succeed despite the presence of his Stayers' Hurdle conqueror, Anzum.

A further consideration is the Irish representative, Boss Doyle, the one-time chaser who will eventually go for the Grand National after confidence- building sessions over hurdles. "He has some very good form over fences, though you have to go back a bit," Mouse Morris, his trainer, said yesterday. "He went off the boil a bit last year - though all the horses were sick last season.

"We put him back over hurdles to try and cheer him up a bit which it seems to be doing. This looks a hot little race but he will have a chance of getting placed anyway."

The big race is the Tote Silver Cup, a contest formally known as the Betterware, formally known as the SGB. The disappointment here is that Brother Of Iris, who had headed betting on the race all week, was last night announced as a doubtful runner. His trainer, Mary Reveley, said: "He has heat in a joint. We have just found it at night stables. It's not the joint he had a problem with, it's a different one. I think he's just larked about like he does and just twisted it. It's a bit warm and I daren't risk it."

In the absence of Brother Of Iris, SIMPLY DASHING (nap 1.45) is the pick. He has an ailment frowned on in polite circles, a wind problem, without which he would almost certainly be right up with the best.

He is still capable of significant form and if the betting for the King George VI Chase at Kempton is anything to go by, he must go close. See More Business and Looks Like Trouble, who sandwiched Tim Easterby's gelding in the 1-2-3 for the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October, are joint favourites for the Sunbury race, with Simply Dashing on 12-1.