RACING: Fresh formula cultivates a larger field

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The Independent Online
There must have been some hearty backslapping at the British Horseracing Board yesterday when the new policy of re-opening races with poor fields at the five-day stage achieved its most striking success to date.

The Berkshire Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday, a Grade Two event worth £15,000, had attracted only two entries, Calapaez and Googly, by closing time on Monday. Both horses are hopelessly out of form at present, and the weekend's feature race would, until recently, have been an effective non-event. Under new rules, however, the contest was re-opened, and the only parties with reason to be disappointed when the race closed for the second time yesterday were the connections of the two initial entries. An astonishing 36 extra names are now in the running for Saturday's prize, inluding such useful hurdlers as Barna Boy, Shujan and Hops And Pops.

Indeed, even John White, whose Googly would have earned at least £5,000 simply by turning up at Newbury, could appreciate the benefits of the new system. "It might not be good for me but it's good for racing," the trainer said yesterday. "That's what it's all about and it will work back around at a later date.

"It probably shows that there should be more lower-grade handicaps, as there's the horses around, but not the good horses to run in those sort of races. I don't know if Googly will still run as she doesn't like big fields, but I expect that a lot were just put in to have a look and you might still only get six on the day."

There will be no more competitive outings at all for Just So, runner- up to Miinnehoma in last year's Grand National. Henry Cole's chaser won only three races, but then the events for which nature equipped him do not exist. Six miles, uphill, pulling a cart might begin to test the limits of Just So's stamina, but only rarely during his racing career did conditions swing in his favour.

Just So was pulled up in the Greenalls Gold Cup at Haydock last Saturday, and Veronica Cole, his trainer's wife, said yesterday: "He has lost what little speed he did have and we want to retire him while he still has his dignity. We thought he might be in pain after Saturday but the vet has checked him over and said that he is fine."

In Just So's absence, the Coles could still have a representative in the better chases next season, since the departure for the paddocks of their useful mare Dubacilla may now be delayed for 12 months. "It's not certain now that she will retire," Mrs Cole said. "David Nicholson [Dubacilla's trainer], might persuade us to have another go with her next year. The problem is that there are not many races for her. She gets such a lot of weight in handicaps and a race like the King George would not suit her."

More immediately, Dubacilla is expected to run well in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in 15 days' time, despite her current position as a 16-1 outsider. "She is very well and David is winding her up for the race. I just hope that the going isn't too heavy as her feet get stuck in heavy ground."