Racing: Decoupage has the edge for Egerton

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The Independent Online
IF WE still called the apparatus on the mantelpiece a wireless, the machine pumping out a beat in the corner a gramophone, you could understand it, but the Tote must by now be getting a little bit cross with the credit going to another firm for one of their sponsorships.

It is a long time, back to 1986 in fact, when a fizzy-drink company last supported Newbury's competitive handicap hurdle at St Valentine's time, yet they still get much of the credit.

Many of those on course today, and almost all the old-timers, will refer to the feature race, the richest handicap hurdle in Europe, as the Schweppes. While their name endures, so does the contest's reputation as one of the most competitive races in the calendar.

This does not stop some horses going off at silly prices. Indeed, Vicario Di Bray was 4-7 when he was turned over by Grey Salute in 1989. The one to be shot at this year is Tiutchev, who will be expected to run faster than the poet after whom he is named. This is a good horse, perhaps even up to Champion Hurdle standard, but he will start not far from odds-on, which is even closer to absurdity. Even if you are convinced he is going to win, this is a price for the feeble minded.

Much can go wrong in what will be rather more turbulent than a gentleman's stroll round Berkshire. Tiutchev's participation means there are some big odds floating around and one which will have a greater chance than his price suggests is the admirable DECOUPAGE (nap 2.35), who represents the Charlie Egerton yard responsible for last weekend's big handicap hurdle winner, Teaatral.

The Game Spirit Chase is headed by Ask Tom, who won this event 12 months ago but then suffered training interruptions on the way to the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Festival punters however were just afforded the first part of that information). He will come on for the outing.

One of his rivals is Nipper Reed, who owes his name to the bobby who vainly tried to repatriate Ronnie Biggs from Copacobana beach. The nine- year -old's owner, Graham Piper, is a former law enforcer too, and he could do with the winning percentage to pay his legal team. He was recently arrested as part of a drugs operation by the National Crime Squad. Place money might have to do, as this looks an opportunity for Or Royal (2.00) to break a losing sequence. The grey's trainer, Martin Pipe, sends out Golden Alpha (4.35) in the concluding bumper and the word from Wellington is so strong that he must win.

The West Country support in the opening race will be for Earthmover, last term's Foxhunters' Chase winner at the Festival who is among the considerations for the Gold Cup next month. He fell at Newton Abbot on his reappearance and took home with him on his side a haematoma, a blood blister, the size of a pumpkin. The horse has consequently not been given a hard time on the gallops and a better prospect, receiving chunks of weight, is Zaggy Lane (next best 1.30).

Another horse to analyse is Barry Hills's The Fly, fifth in the Derby and third in the St Leger of 1997, and now about to embark on a jumping career. He is entered in the Champion Hurdle and Supreme Novices', and is around 20-1 for the latter.

At Haydock, Rough Quest, the 1996 Grand National winner, has his first foray into hunter chase company. The best bet here is Marlborough (3.15), who has rather more of his career in front of him, including the Royal & SunAlliance Chase in five weeks' time.

The fences at Prestbury Park may also be the challenge for River Wye and Makounji, who won yesterday at Bangor and Newbury respectively to keep alive hopes of an assault on the Arkle Trophy.

Quel Senor, the French Group Three winner, may also be on parade at Prestbury Park though his winning effort at Newbury yesterday was hardly the stuff of legend. Francois Doumen's horse would not have collected at all had Scarlet Pimpernel not unseated at the last or Tom Paddington broken down. Hold those bets.