Racing: Graduation day for late developer Niki Dee

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The Independent Online
ANYONE WHO has spent the last 15 minutes turning the page wondering where the rest of the racecards have gone has been wasting their time. The BHB's policy of encouraging Sunday racing at the expense of Saturday means that there are just four meetings in Britain today, and the Becher Chase card at Aintree, which used to clash with the valuable meeting at Ascot, now takes place tomorrow. It is now up to punters and racegoers, via betting turnover and attendance figures, to vote on whether they prefer a big dollop of jam on one day or a thinner smear over two.

If it is ever going to work, it will surely be on a weekend like this, when there is a serious feature event on both days. There is the class of the First National Chase at Ascot today, with several second-season chasers who could go all the way, and the punter-pleasing uncertainty of the Becher Chase, over the National fences tomorrow. The only shame is that fast ground has cut many fields to the bone.

The big one at Ascot has made it into double-figures, though, and there is strength in depth too. Supreme Charm, Bouchasson and Niki Dee are all chasers with a serious future, and that is before you take account of promising contenders saddled by Martin Pipe and Eddie O'Grady.

The horse that wins this will be a major Festival candidate, no question. The difficulty for punters is that any one of them could, and so could Dines, for that matter, if he consents to jump off. Supreme Charm has been supported all week, from 7-1 to 4-1, and it is never easy to overlook course specialists - he has five wins at Ascot already - on this demanding track. Preference, though, is for NIKI DEE (nap 2.35), partly on the basis of a smooth seasonal debut success, but mainly because he looks to be the sort of late-maturing chasing type that Peter Beaumont handles as well as anyone in the business.

The supporting televised races at Ascot boast nine runners between them, but then again, there are small fields and small fields. There are just four runners in the handicap chase, but with Art Prince likely to set a good pace, a fair test seems assured, and a horse like Frazer Island (1.25) could be seen at his best. The hurdle should also go along at a fair clip, but Out Ranking will probably only set it up for her short- priced stablemate, Ballysicyos (2.00).

The Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon has cut up too, and at the weights, it is hard to see any other winner than Strong Promise, who gets 10lb from Edredon Bleu. This is plain to bookies and punters alike, though, and there will be (slightly) more of a price about Kathryn's Pet (next best 3.25) in the handicap hurdle. She is fit from the Flat and won the race last year.

Earth Summit, one of the few horses who seems to enjoy return trips to the National fences, will be a popular choice for tomorrow's Becher Chase at Aintree. Top weight again and another year under his girth may anchor him this time, though, and Esprit De Cotte (2.35) catches the eye as an alternative. A good chaser in his native France, he jumped particularly well on his recent debut over English fences at Worcester and should have plenty of improvement left.