Racing: Express a better option

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TO SEE Unsinkable Boxer soaring over Uttoxeter's shrubbery yesterday was to wonder what all the fuss is when people talk about switching from hurdles to fences. The unfortunates in pursuit of the Unsinkable had no chance.

Yet it is not always thus. The Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot today will exemplify the vagaries of the turf as three animals sent over the big stuff last time are returned to a more salubrious venture over timber.

It is hardly shocking that Ocean Hawk did not make the transition as fences must have seemed as daunting as castle walls to the little horse. He actually won over the larger obstacles at Worcester last time, but connections have done the decent thing and returned National Hunt's My Little Pony to his proper sphere.

There were doubts whether Cyborgo would be good for anything but filling doggies' tummies after his last start, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That was the day he swerved and took See More Business out of calculations after appearing to do himself a very nasty mischief.

The gelding had fractured his back and many thought the end had come. Cyborgo is back today, however, and may return to fencing in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day if he acquits himself thoroughly.

It was in this race 12 months ago that Paddy's Return threatened to become the colossus among stamina horses. He thrashed Pridwell by 19 lengths and immediately became everyone's fancy for the Stayers' Hurdle at the Festival. That was his last win.

Paddy's Return had three further ventures last season, and two more, over fences, this campaign. All have been characterised by failure. The bottom of the pit was reached at Wetherby last month when the six-year- old threw himself to the ground. Ferdy Murphy, his trainer, considered that was enough. He hopes the return to a happy hunting ground may invigorate his horse.

Princeful, too, had been expected to test his physique against fences early this season, but instead is cherrypicking some nice hurdles races before he makes the transition.

Jenny Pitman's horse faces two Stayers' Hurdle runners-up this afternoon: Splendid Thyne, whom he beat at Prestbury Park last March, and Anzum, who has been absent with a leg problem since finishing behind Karshi in the 1997 running. Princeful (next best 2.15) can do himself a favour and suggest to his trainer that he remains over hurdles a good deal longer.

Nicky Richards sends out his first big-race representative since being granted a permanent licence on Wednesday when Unguided Missile contests the Betterware Cup.

Richards jnr has not had the best of fortunes since succeeding his father, Gordon, at Greystoke, but there are possibilities here for Unguided Missile as he has a 9lb turnround with Tamarindo for the 10 lengths he was beaten by Martin Pipe's horse at Cheltenham eight days ago.

It should be tight between the two and a value option is TORDUFF EXPRESS (nap 2.50), who has a chance on a line through Macgeorge, who split the big two at Cheltenham.

The other race which the BBC will show us should advertise the Supreme Novices' prospects of Hoh Invader (1.40), while, off camera, there is an interesting Frogmore Chase featuring the multiple course winner Storm Alert, last year's victor in this race, Celibate, and the progressive Get Real, on course for the Victor Chandler Chase.

Channel 4 cover Uttoxeter and of greatest significance here is the appearance of Polar Prospect (3.40) in the last race. The five-year-old was also declared at Ascot, where he could have picked up a penalty for next month's Ladbroke Hurdle. He turns out instead for a cheaper prize without the threat of a penalty and the tip should be taken.

Warwick is also not without its charms as David Nicholson will be on hand dressed as Santa Claus. Rudolph may get his red nose outshone.