Racing: Dempsey and Moss have class

GAMBLERS, PURISTS, communists - the first day of the Grand National meeting has something for everyone. There is a whole series of short-priced favourites for mugs to back or chancers to oppose, including two of the most impressive winners at last month's Cheltenham Festival, Hors La Loi III and Flagship Uberalles. And above all there is the Fox Hunters' Chase, in which 24 amateur riders, most of them scions of the ruling class, will attempt to ride around one circuit of the Grand National fences. This, as ever, will be a sight to gladden hard-left hearts almost as much as a rendition of The Internationale.

Yet not all the riders are the eager but hopeless sorts that punters try to avoid at all costs. Sift through the list of names and you will find some who are effectively professionals already, most notably Alan Dempsey and Richard Forristal among those who are British-based. And it is Dempsey, who is by some way the most successful amateur rider in Britain this year, who may hold the key to this year's Fox Hunters', and make it, for once, a decent betting medium.

Dempsey has been booked to ride Mely Moss (next best 3.45), whose recent form is not encouraging for the simple reason that there isn't any. Two seasons ago, though, Mely Moss was a highly promising young chaser, and one who, at his best, would beat most of today's field with a fence to spare. He is still just eight years old, and probably capable of better form still, assuming that he is fit and well after a 768-day absence.

Were he representing one of the many small-time handlers who send runners to this race, this would be a big assumption. Mely Moss, though, is prepared by Charles Egerton and has apparently been laid out for the race. Odds of about 9-2 may not look tempting in such an unpredictable event, but Mely Moss has excellent form, the best jockey going and bags of potential.

The most valuable race of the day is the Martell Cup, in which the standard advice is to avoid any horse who ran at Cheltenham and may now be feeling the effects. Unfortunately, all five of today's runners were in action at the Festival, though with varying levels of exertion.

Go Ballistic ran the race of his life to finish second in the Gold Cup. MAJADOU (nap 2.35), on the other hand, made a mockery of the handicap in the Mildmay of Flete and coasted home by 14 lengths. The ease of that success, not to mention the weight he gets from his four rivals today, should make the difference.

Victory for Majadou would give a valuable push to Martin Pipe as he tries to regain top position in the trainers' table from Paul Nicholls. The latter, though, has a leading chance of his own today in Flagship Uberalles, who will face, among others, Pipe's Tresor De Mai, the Arkle Trophy runner-up, in the Maghull Novices' Chase.

Here, though, it may pay to side with a horse who missed Cheltenham in Dawn Leader (3.10), who has done little wrong in his three outings over fences, while another relatively fresh horse, Lord Lamb (2.00), may have the beating of Joe Mac in the opening novices' hurdle. Joe Mac finished second in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but was beaten so far by Hors La Loi III - who runs in today's juvenile hurdle - that the bare form may flatter him.

Hors La Loi III is not, on the face of it, a horse to oppose, but it is just possible that Simply Gifted (4.20) will give him a race. Tim Easterby's charge was travelling particularly well in the Triumph Hurdle until the turn into the straight, and today's easier track may be much more to his liking.

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