Racing: Guest to arrive before the party ends: A fresh approach can take the November Handicap at Doncaster. Greg Wood reports The traditional finale of the Flat season can see the triumph of innocence over experience

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The Independent Online
DONCASTER is the Flat season's border town, where turf racing effectively starts and finishes, but though the surroundings may be familiar, hasn't the atmosphere changed? In March, the Lincoln was like the first drink of a promising night out; now the November Handicap finds us with empty pockets and throbbing heads.

And if that's how the punters feel, after eight months of nothing more strenuous than scribbling names on to betting slips, what must it be like for the horses? They might not be able to read a calendar, but there is no need - the receding daylight hours are nature's sharp reminder that winter is coming. Small wonder then that many will be reluctant to chase each other one last time this afternoon.

Not all, though. Even at this late stage, there are a few animals which, for reasons of injury or immaturity, have not acquired the world-weary air of a hardened handicapper. Three of these eager innocents go to post in the November Handicap: Darrery, Elatis and Captain's Guest, and the last of those is particularly interesting.

The future looked highly promising for Captain's Guest when he ran the useful Tioman Island to less than a length at Salisbury in May. 'I thought then that he might win a Group Three in Germany,' Geoff Lawson, assistant to Captain's Guest's trainer, Guy Harwood, said yesterday. 'But then he had a bit of a virus, and then we felt that he just wasn't right.'

Four months, the meat of the season, passed before the colt's next race - only the fourth of his life - at Newmarket. Asked to give weight to such unforgiving campaigners as Opera Ghost and Night Clubbing, Captain's Guest proved that his ability had survived the illness by finishing a close fourth. With improvement still likely and a fresh set of legs to support it, CAPTAIN'S GUEST (nap 2.30) has a far better chance than this morning's odds of 20-1 might suggest. Blyton Lad (1.25) and Jack Button (3.00) should also retire to winter quarters in winning form.

Replacing them at the front line will be the handicap hurdlers, those familiar names who will race each other most Saturdays between now and February, with a different result each time. Today's Tote Silver Trophy at Chepstow is a perfect example of the breed: there are at least a dozen plausible winners even before you allow for jumping's inherent uncertainty.

Such thoughts did not avert a concerted gamble on Triple Witching earlier this week, though. When the sponsors compiled their opening odds, David Nicholson's gelding, unraced for 18 months, was offered at 20-1. Within minutes he was 8-1 and still shrinking, which, despite the Tote's notorious faint-heartedness when faced with worthwhile money, is a fair plunge.

Nicholson, however, denies any knowledge of the gamble's origins, and even for a handler of his ability, this is a fierce race to take first time up. Backers would be wiser to side with the proven fitness, and recent winning form, of Taroudant (next best 2.05). Expect a good run too from Wheeler's Wonder (1.05), who should probably be chasing a double after being given too much to do at Stratford last time.

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