Racing: Earth is ready to get back in hunt

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The Independent Online
AS RICHARD DUNWOODY circled belatedly in a helicopter above Warwick last Saturday it was quite appropriate that he should be looking down on the jockey they now know in the weighing room as "the vulture".

Jimmy McCarthy took advantage of Dunwoody's tardy arrival to partner Behrajan to a valuable victory. It was the third Saturday in succession that McCarthy had successfully substituted on horses originally meant for other riders.

The previous week, McCarthy's then friend, Norman Williamson, with whom he shares a house, had succumbed on the morning of the Tote Gold Trophy with a cricked neck and surrendered the winning ride on Decoupage. Seven days earlier, Jamie Osborne had relinquished the seat on the deeply temperamental Him Of Praise at Uttoxeter, allowing "the Saturday boy", as he has also become known, to initiate his run. Punters may now consider a pattern is developing.

Him Of Praise returns to the racecourse this afternoon at Haydock, for the Greenalls Grand National Trial, and Osborne has again allowed his No 2 at Oliver Sherwood's Upper Lambourn yard to grapple with the gelding's idiosyncrasies.

"Jamie says he's missed the wedding and he doesn't want to attend the funeral," Sherwood said yesterday. "He could have ridden him but he doesn't want to break up a winning partnership.

"This run has been good for Jimmy and his confidence and, while he's never going to have the finesse of a Jamie or a Richard Dunwoody, he's a perfectly good understudy and he'll do the job if given the chance."

This afternoon's assignment is hardly the easiest of tasks either as Him Of Praise regularly gives the impression of being part of an equine care-in-the-community programme. "The horse can be a bit of a monkey," Sherwood concedes, "but he does tend to come to himself at this time of the year. He's got the ability to win."

Lord Gyllene, the 1997 National winner, will not be among those trying to prevent that eventuality as the soft ground means he misses the race. There are other dangers, however.

Eudipe, who has enticed Tony McCoy to Lancashire, will be foremost among them as he also represents the Martin Pipe stable which has been so fortunate at this circuit. The seven-year-old was ridden quite beautifully to victory by the champion jockey at Sandown last time, but the two-legged part of the operation was subsequently banned for use of the whip. The way things are going, McCoy may make a stop locally and swap his baton for Ken Dodd's tickling stick.

General Wolfe, the top-weight in this the richest handicap chase of the season thus far, won here on his reappearance but then scrambled his cells at Uttoxeter. It should pay to wait to see if they have fallen back into place.

The most interesting contestant is EARTHMOVER (nap 2.45). He won the Foxhunters' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival with some facility almost 12 months ago, but has since failed to complete over far easier courses. It may be that these demanding obstacles will again concentrate the mind. It is worth remembering that on one set of statistics at least, the former hunter-chaser is still considered the superior of Teeton Mill and Double Thriller.

If Him Of Praise is the monkey at Haydock then the gorilla colony is formed by Quixall Crossett and Monaughty Man in the preceding contest. Both are trained by Ted Caine and both are useless.

Quixall's unblemished (by victory that is) record is composed of 84 runs and no wins. Monaughty Man has managed one success in 43 runs, but, if anything, he boasts the poorer recent form. He was pulled up on his first four outings this season, and also put his hooves in the air at Ayr last time. If you back either of these horses, you are very fortunate to have betting facilities in your compound.

Over at Kempton, one of the leading primates is Pridwell, who brings his enigmatic tendencies to the Rendlesham Hurdle. More reliable here is Ocean Hawk (4.40).

The Sunbury card is poorly populated considering the goodies on offer and the Racing Post Chase is hardly a stampede with just nine runners going to post. Challenger Du Luc flies the flag for the equine barmy in the feature contest, and he cannot be supported while there is a course- and-distance winner at the top of his form in the field. Be sensible on a day of madness and back Dr Leunt (next best 4.10).