Racing: Dragonada to fire for Cecil

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The Independent Online
That old line about the "glorious uncertainty" of racing has been looking a little shaky over the past couple of days. First, on Thursday, Ladbrokes revealed that profits from its betting shops had risen again (by no less than 43 per cent,), while yesterday, Frankie Dettori's appeal against a five-day suspension for irresponsible riding, arguably one of the most optimistic cases ever to be considered by the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Committee, was duly thrown out after a minimum of consideration.

Dettori will miss five days' racing from Monday, though it is anyone's guess whether he would have bothered to travel to Hamilton that day in any case, and will return to action at Haydock Park a week today, no doubt with a winner or two to make up on Kieren Fallon in the jockeys' title race.

Fallon has just four rides at Ripon today, while Dettori has a full book of seven at Sandown, but it is the Irishman who may profit, thanks to a series of large and fiercely competitive fields at the southern course.

Which rather brings us back to the ballooning profits from Ladbrokes' betting shops, since the three handicaps and single trappy conditions event televised by Channel 4 from Sandown are just the sort of races which draw punters in, regardless of the bookies' enormous profit margin and the relatively tiny chance that backers will escape unscathed. Ladbrokes claim that the 43 per cent rise in profits (up from pounds 27.2m to pounds 38.9m) is mainly due to the introduction of fruit machines and the Lottery-style 49s numbers game, but figures like these should still give punters cause to stop and think before risking their cash on a 20-1 runner handicap.

The place to start, then, is the Atalanta Stakes, a Listed event for fillies, although even here there are 14 runners to contend with. Several are well exposed, however, and it will be a surprise if the prize does not fall to one of the lightly raced three-year-olds, with Hirasah and Egoli the two which catch the eye. Both have clearly been difficult to train, with Egoli making her debut just 16 days ago, while Hirasah started at 20-1 for her belated reappearance earlier this month, only to beat Cape Cross with comfort. Cape Cross, of course, was the best horse in last Saturday's Celebration Mile, but lost the race thanks to Dettori's roughhouse tactics.

Hirasah was getting plenty of weight that day, though, and a line through Cape Cross gives DRAGONADA (nap 3.05) every chance of emerging victoriousy. Henry Cecil's filly was beaten two and a half lengths by the same horse at Goodwood earlier this month in receipt of just 1lb, before failing to get home over 10 furlongs at Salisbury.

The sprint handicap is also relatively manageable, and with the stalls on the stands side, the draw may play little part in the outcome. Dettori may have his best chance of a winner here, on the top weight Moon Strike, but it is the three-year-old Soviet Leader (next 3.40), at the other end of the handicap, who should find this stiff five furlongs ideal. Another improving runner from the same age group, Royal Castle (4.10) makes some appeal in the stayers' event, but the 10-furlong bookmaker-sponsored handicap which follows looks beyond solution.

A bonus for armchair punters - and in particular for the winning owner - is coverage of the Tattersalls Breeders' Stakes at the Curragh. This is an event restricted to graduates of last September's yearling sale at Fairyhouse, with pounds 150,000 in the purse, and an race which has proved something of a benefit for British yards, with four wins in its first seven runnings.

Little wonder, then, that no fewer than a dozen British-trained juveniles will make the trip today, including four (Daunting Lady, Another Fantasy, Honey Storm and Stately Princess) from stables with previous wins in the race. Aidan O'Brien supplies six of the remaining 18 runners.

There is a strong British presence too in the Group Two Grand Prix de Deauville tomorrow, with just one French runner taking on three from the other side of the Channel. The best of them appears to be Lord Of Men, who should send Dettori into his five-day break with yet another Pattern race to his credit.


NAP: Lomberto

(Sandown 4.45)

NB: Dragonada

(Sandown 3.05)