Racing: Grounds for caution on betting front

Click to follow
WHEN THE last horseboxes pulled out of Kempton and Haydock on Saturday, the rehearsals were over. All the serious contenders have been herded on to the coach which has Cheltenham as its next stop. There may be a few stragglers, whose timing was thrown out by injury or illness, but if they turn up now they may find it has left without them. The Festival is barely 300 hours away.

One problem which will not trouble punters between now and 16 March is how to keep warm - the thick roll of betting money burning a hole in our pockets will take care of that. There will be little or nothing to grab the attention at places like Exeter or Musselburgh, and even the outlet of an ante-post bet is effectively closed.

This is a time which highlights the recklessness of ante-post betting. People were punting on this year's Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup almost before last year's winners were led into the enclosure. With just 15 days left, though, Cheltenham's clerk of the course still does not have any serious idea what the going will be. Even if your long-range fancy has survived this far, the weather could yet frustrate it.

"If I were giving it today, it would be good to soft," Philip Arkwright said yesterday, "but there is still an awful lot that can happen. We could find ourselves watering the course ourselves, or calling in the fire brigade to pump water off. But I don't see it drying out completely. The ground is deep down wet."

If so, this year's Festival could buck the recent trend, which has seen the Gold Cup run on good or faster ground in seven of the last nine years.

It is just as likely, though, that form such as that of the Greenalls' Grand National trial, which was run on soft going at Haydock on Saturday, will seem all but irrelevant in just two weeks' time, and all the more so when the Grand National itself comes around in early April.

Young Kenny, who won the Greenalls, may not run at Cheltenham - although he is is now 12-1 with William Hill for the National Hunt Handicap Chase. Peter Beaumont, Young Kenny's trainer, said yesterday: "I'll put him in the Scottish and Irish Nationals but the ground may have gone for him by the time the Whitbread comes round."

Young Kenny's stable companion Island Chief was last, but Beaumont was not despondent. "In heavy ground the three and a half miles might have been too far," he said. Island Chief is entered in the National and could still run.

Fiddling The Facts did the best of the National entries in the Greenalls. Ladbrokes cut her to 16-1 for Aintree but her owners said she may miss the National with the Midlands or Irish Nationals more likely targets. General Wolfe is a National possible, but was eased to 16-1 by Ladbrokes after finishing sixth. Eudipe (ninth) was pushed out to 16-1 by Ladbrokes.

On the same card, Simply Gifted enhanced his claims for the Triumph Hurdle. William Hill cut him to 14-1 after his win in the Victor Ludorum Hurdle and Tim Easterby, his trainer, is convinced Simply Gifted will give Katarino, the Triumph favourite and winner of the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton, plenty to think about. Go- Informal, meanwhile, goes for the Stayers' Hurdle after winning the Select Hurdle.

The weekend's other big winner, Dr Leunt, is more likely to run at Cheltenham, although his target will be determined by - guess what? - the weather. The winner of the Racing Post Chase at Kempton is entered in the Cathcart Chase, the Mildmay Of Flete Handicap Chase and the National Hunt Handicap Chase. Philip Hobbs, his trainer, said yesterday: "He likes good ground and he doesn't mind it on the soft side but if it came up soft, he would be better off over two miles five furlongs [the Cathcart] rather than three."

The forecast is not so promising for Direct Route, a contender for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Howard Johnson's chaser broke a blood vessel when fourth behind Teeton Mill at Ascot. "We haven't had a saddle on him since," Johnson said yesterday. "He's just out in the field. He lost a lot of weight at Ascot and we are only just getting it back on him now. He'll starting cantering this week and then I'll know a bit more."

Hill Society remains on target for the Champion Chase despite finishing only third to Papillon - who misses Cheltenham and Aintree to go for the Irish Grand National - at Naas on Saturday.

Simply Dashing, meanwhile, is back on course for the Gold Cup after an injury earlier this month had left him doubtful.