Racing: Dr Jazz to set the key for revelry

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The Independent Online
NICK HENDERSON is undoubtedly one of our finest trainers, but he apparently lacks a certain something when it comes to imagination. It is true that he has a duty to his owners to find the most realistic openings for their horses, but surely, if ever there was a horse who deserved to take his chance at the Cheltenham Festival next week, it is Henderson's runner in the novice hurdle at Chepstow this afternoon. The beast's name is Bacchanal.

Perhaps he has an even more appropriate runner at home, although if there is indeed a horse called Mad Booze And Betting Spree stabled at Seven Barrows, it has yet to see a racecourse. A more serious point, though, is that Bacchanal won his last race in the manner of a very useful novice, and the fact that he will presumably not be heading west next week implies that All Gong, Henderson's entry in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, may have a rather better chance than current odds of 25-1 might suggest.

Bacchanal (2.00) should certainly be good enough to win today, assuming that he shows normal improvement against some talented but exposed opponents. The odds will do little to fill anyone's pockets ahead of the Festival, though, and it is the Imperial Cup which most punters will turn to for a flying start to Cheltenham week.

Or rather, they might if the Imperial Cup were its usual, highly competitive self. This year, though, there are two improving animals from top yards, Dr Jazz and In Question, who seem to have the race between them. In Question, who is owned by the tipping service The Winning Line, has been the narrow favourite in ante-post betting this week, thanks to a 12-length success in a well-run novice hurdle at Ludlow, while Dr Jazz was second to The Fly - who was placed in a St Leger on the Flat - last time out.

The Winning Line rarely leaves its money behind when one of its horses is laid out for a race, but then neither does Martin Pipe who has made a habit of winning this race in recent years on the way to landing a pounds 50,000 bonus by completing a quick-fire double at the Festival. Blowing Wind did so last year, and DR JAZZ (nap 4.05), his sole runner from four initial entries, can repeat the first half at least with victory this afternoon.

The Sandown card is surprisingly strong, with the final of the EBF National Hunt Novices' Hurdle series a fine supporting event. Tonoco, whose latest success was franked by the recent easy victory of Crazy Horse, will be a popular choice, but he carries top weight and may not be able to give 22lb to Count Campioni (next best 3.30). Jenny Pitman's runner is another novice of great promise.

Other worthwhile bets are thin on the ground, but In The Blood (2.30) and Belmont King (1.30) have solid chances at Chepstow, the latter in a race which includes the 1996 Grand National winner, Rough Quest.

Today's Ayr card, page 26