Racing: For The Notebook:Horses To Go On To Better Things

POINT-TO-POINT racing has never been more competitive and, on Saturday at Warwick, CASTLE MANE reiterated the point in style with a fluent victory on his debut under National Hunt rules in the Town Of Warwick Foxhunters Trophy Hunter Chase.

The easy winner of all four of his point-to-points last year, Castle Mane has retained his unbeaten record between the flags and left clock watchers double checking their time pieces after impressive victories at Tweseldown and Brocklesby Park this year.

Dominating both races, the seven-year-old coasted home in times much faster than any other winner could manage on either card and Castle Mane's reputation is such that he was the 4-1 favourite with some bookmakers for the Foxhunters' Chase, the hunter chasers' Gold Cup, at the Cheltenham Festival a week on Thursday, before he had even run on a racecourse "proper".

Indeed the only question mark against Castle Mane prior to Saturday's contest was how he would handle regulation fences which, at a minimum of 4ft 6in, are generally a good six inches bigger - and considerably stiffer - than most obstacles on the point-to-point circuit.

Castle Mane pecked on landing at the seventh-last fence and gave the third-last a bit of a clout, but had no problems with any of the other 18 fences in the 31/4-mile contest - around a course which poses a relatively demanding jumping test - as he cantered to a bloodless nine-length victory.

Caroline Bailey, his trainer, who handled Teeton Mill with distinction before the grey went into the care of Venetia Williams towards the end of last season, said afterwards: "We'll be very tempted to go to Cheltenham as he hasn't had a hard race, but I just wanted to get one into him to see if everything was okay."

Dick Saunders, Bailey's father, who did punters such a favour when, as an amateur rider, he famously took the hazardous but ground-saving Fred Winter/John francome route down the inner to guide Grittar, the favourite, to victory in the 1982 Grand National, is confident Castle Mane will acquit himself well at Cheltenham.

Saunders said yesterday: "Castle Mane is a very straightforward horse and he did everything that was required of him at Warwick. He will have no trouble in staying [he is by Carlingford Castle, second to Teenoso in the 1983 Derby and third to Sun Princess in the 1983 St Leger] up the hill at Cheltenham. The only problem is that they will go a much stronger pace in the Foxhunters'. However, he jumps well and the Foxhunters' looks a fairly open race this year."

Castle Mane can win the Foxhunters' and could be back for the Gold Cup in 2000.