Racing: High-draw hopes make Mignonette a firm bet: A successful Cambridgeshire coup, even if not on the old-fashioned scale, can still taste sweet

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The Independent Online
NINETY-ONE years ago today, a filly called Hackler's Pride won the Cambridgeshire Handicap and in the process landed probably the largest betting coup in turf history. She was prepared in the middle of Salisbury Plain for a reclusive group of gamblers known as the Druids Lodge Confederacy - the stable-lads were padlocked into their hostel every night to prevent information leaking out - and backed by her owners to win pounds 250,000. The equivalent today would be a little over pounds 10m.

The gamble was recalled this week in a preview of the Cambridgeshire produced by its sponsors, William Hill. The irony, of course, is that anyone walking into one of their shops with a mind to win a similar sum on today's race - or possibly even asking for pounds 200 on a 50-1 chance - would be blown back into the high street by the gales of laughter from behind the cashier's window. But if the betting industry has changed since the turn of the century, the desire of trainers to lay out a runner for the Cambridgeshire has not, even if such such useful ruses as the imprisonment of stable staff are now considered a little extreme.

As a result, many of the runners in today's race can be expected to improve significantly on their performances so far this season. Their handlers have carefully sent them over an unsuitable distance or going while the weights were being framed, in the hope that a lenient burden and today's unusual nine-furlong trip would allow their runner to shine.

The best laid plans, though, can be frustrated by the weather. Throughout the week, the skies over Newmarket have been gloomy, but as yet little rain has fallen on the Rowley Mile and the official going is good to firm. Andromaque, one of the ante-post favourites, did not make it past the overnight declaration stage as a result. Two more well-fancied runners, Dahyah and William Tell, may also be withdrawn by their respective trainers, Michael Stoute and Fulke Johnson Houghton, if the ground does not ease.

Even so, punters are still left with 30-odd runners to sift through, and the easiest starting point is to take a view about the draw. An acknowledged master of such judgements is Gerald Delamere of the Sporting Life, who felt earlier this week that the far side would be favoured. The finishing order in Tuesday's Houghton Sales Stakes, another 30-runner contest, seemed to bear him out.

Jawaal, Halling and Knowth are among the fancied runners in high stalls, but at the current prices, Sweet Mignonette could hardly be more obvious if a klaxon were attached to the top of box 25. Mary Reveley's mare was a convincing winner at Newcastle in August on the fast ground she needs, was badly hampered at Doncaster soon afterwards and ran well, considering the soft going was against her, at Ayr two weeks ago. The 28-1 available with Coral seriously underestimates her chance.

A small piece of history awaits Further Flight later in the afternoon. Success in the Jockey Club Cup would make Barry Hills's admirable stayer the first horse to win the same Group event four times in Britain since the Pattern was introduced.

Peter Caldwell was last night slowly recovering after a fall from Fion Corn at Hexham. The 29-year-old jockey was taken unconscious from the course by stretcher. He was brought to Hexham General Hospital before being transferred to the neurological unit of Newcastle General Hospital. His step-mother, Pat, reported later: 'Peter has had a brain scan, and fortunately it has not detected a blood clot or a fractured skull. He was out for four hours but is coming round slowly.'