Racing: Holland pulls off a Nicer one for Hills

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The Independent Online
INSPIRED tactics, devised by the trainer Barry Hills and implemented by his jockey Darryll Holland, enabled Nicer to steal the Bonusprint Masaka Stakes at Kempton yesterday.

Nicer had managed just one minor success from five attempts as a two-year-old last year, and the Masaka, traditionally a 1,000 Guineas trial - Nicer is not entered for the race - had seemed more likely to concern Ajfan - who is - and Henry Cecil's Italian 1,000 Guineas candidate Helvellyn.

However, Hills and Holland had other ideas, and their decision to have Holland dash Nicer across the course to the stands' rail, as the field turned for home, tipped the scales in their filly's favour. Racing on what proved the fastest of the officially 'soft' ground, Nicer burst clear two furlongs out and, although Ajfan went in pursuit on the far side, the game was already up. Helvellyn soon led but was headed over two furlongs out and eased down to finish eighth.

Hills expressed mixed feelings afterwards, saying: 'The sum of pounds 900 seemed a lot to pay for Guineas entry at the time, but I suppose I must regret it to an extent now; but there are other races to be won with her. When the ground is soft it is always best under the rails and that was the plan.'

The whole weighing-room was now wise to where the best ground was, and in the Bonusprint Easter Stakes, over the same trip for the colts, all seven runners were brought wide on the home turn.

However, the other six might as well have stayed on the far rails for all the impression they could make on Right Win, who justified his trainer Richard Hannon's bullishness beforehand by forging clear for victory by a wide margin. Right Win is best priced at 40-1 with William Hill for the 2,000 Guineas on 1 May, but may not get the soft ground he loves at Newmarket.

At Haydock, the Irish raider Up And At 'Em found the combination of soft ground and the tenacity of Sea Gazer a bit too much to cope with in the listed Field Marshal Stakes.

The Jimmy Coogan-trained three-year-old was backed from 9- 4 to 7-4 favourite on the strength of his smart form as a juvenile last year and for most of the contest looked sure to brush aside Sea Gazer whenever his jockey Benjie Coogan wanted him to.

Sea Gazer broke smartly for his rider Kevin Darley, and led, but Up And At 'Em and Coogan were always travelling smoothly just in behind him and the pair ranged up alongside, with Coogan sitting arrogantly motionless while Darley was hard at work as they approached the final furlong.

However, when Coogan finally chose to ask Up And At 'Em to go about his task 200 yards from home, rather than humiliating his rival, the pair went about a length clear, and then began to flounder in the Lancashire mud.

Darley, sensing his chance to make his opponents pay the price of their complacency, galvanised Sea Gazer who, when so many front-runners would have thrown in the towel once headed, responded with a will and wrested the spoils from the favourite near the line.