Racing: Hunters to snare prize at last

GLORIOUS GOODWOOD: The first-day highlights may be a change of fortune for a luckless mare and a helter-skelter sprint
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The Independent Online
If you are going to have a bad day on any racecourse in the country, it might as well be at Goodwood, where the splendour of the surrounding Sussex countryside can compensate for almost any of the mishaps that the turf tends to throw at you. Even the views across the rolling downland, though, were probably not enough to comfort James Bethell as he left the track for the long journey back to North Yorkshire precisely two years ago today.

Bethell had just seen Hunters Of Brora, his runner in the most valuable race on the first afternoon of Glorious Goodwood, finish second after suffering the sort of obstacle-strewn run which they use to separate the men from the boys in the Marines. Even so, it seemed sure to be just a matter of time before the mare made up for that disappointment. At Newbury earlier this year, her luck certainly did change - but unfortunately for Bethell, it took a turn for the worse. First past the post in the Spring Cup, Hunters Of Brora lost the race to Hawksley Hill in the stewards' room, and shortly afterwards, her form tailed off altogether.

"She's a very good mare if everything goes right for her," Bethell said yesterday. "She just needs some luck, but I can't help thinking that she's always going to find some trouble en route." If backers are looking for a value bet in today's race, however, they could do far worse than put their trust in the law of averages and hope that the moment has finally arrived for Hunters Of Brora to enjoy some good fortune.

Certainly, Bethell's runner makes more appeal at the early odds (20-1 with Coral and the Tote) than Zaralaska, the morning-line favourite at around 4-1. Luca Cumani's runner was banned from racing for 30 days after his seasonal reappearance, when his trainer and jockey, Royston Ffrench, were found guilty of not trying hard enough, but just two days after the ban expired, Zaralaska won the Bessborough Handicap at Royal Ascot and then followed up in the Old Newton Cup at Haydock. Those races were over a mile and a half, however, and with Zaralaska now another 9lb higher in the weights, he must be vulnerable over this easy 10 furlongs.

Hawksley Hill is another with a chance, but is 5lb worse off then when "beaten" by Hunters Of Brora at Newbury, and it is also worth noting that Bethell's runner is returning from a mid-season break, just as she was two years ago. "She's a horse that never runs terribly well when she has too many race together," the trainer said. "She's a lot better after her break and she's been working very well recently, though she's never too flamboyant at home. We just have to hope that the luck comes right in the end." This is a fiercely competitive race, but at 20-1, a just reward may finally be at hand for HUNTERS OF BRORA (nap 3.50).

The most exciting spectacle of the day promises to be the King George Stakes, as 15 runners burn down one of the fastest five-furlong courses in the country. Ever since Ya Malak won the Dash Handicap on Derby day over the similar sprint course at Epsom, this race has seemed to offer an excellent chance for David Nicholls's runner to make his mark in Group company, and he will certainly go to post with every chance.

He is not the only runner in the field who should be ideally suited by the course, going and trip, however, and while Ya Malak, a gutsy old campaigner, would be a very popular winner, Almaty (next best 3.20) might just have too much class for him. John Gosden's four-year-old found the mud at Royal Ascot against him in the Kings' Stand Stakes, but ran respectably none the less and should return to winning form on today's sound surface.

The Gordon Stakes, which opens the meeting, is generally a consolation Group Three for horses which otherwise never stand much chance of getting some black type on their record, but this year there are several useful, lightly raced colts in opposition, with Dick Hern's Falak likely to set off favourite. He deserves to, but may still struggle to beat Silence Reigns (2.15), while Burning (2.45) will surely win the stayers' handicap if the move to William Haggas has helped him to recapture the form of his three-year-old career.