Racing: Indian sharp for spruce

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The Independent Online
AMID the gloom of last April's National disgrace, it has been easy to overlook the progress that has been made at Aintree in recent years. Bigger crowds, better facilities and the inception last year of a second meeting, the autumn fixture which takes place today, can all be attributed to the work of John Hughes and John Parrett, two former clerks of the course who died while in their prime.

Hughes is commemorated by a race at the Spring meeting, while Parrett's contribution is marked today with the first running of a race over two miles and a furlong. It will be the shortest race ever to take place over the big spruce fences and, despite the fierce pace of the early stages of the National, should produce the fastest ever lap of Aintree.

Sadly, the quality of the contestants does not quite measure up to the occasion although Golden Freeze, good enough to lie up with Carvill's Hill in the early stages of that controversial Gold Cup two seasons ago, is a spectacular jumper. Howe Street (12.30), whose Aintree experience is a bad one, having suffered an unnecessary fall in the void National, but was a comfortable winner last time out and is normally a safe and accurate jumper.

His trainer, Howard Johnson, may also take the next event through Nodform Wonder (1.00) and will be expected to complete a hat-trick when Ushers Island lines up for the second race over National fences, the Becher Chase.

Still only seven and the winner of the four-miler at the Cheltenham Festival, Ushers Island is regarded as a natural National horse but may be outspeeded by Indian Tonic (next best 1.35), who found only one too good in a competitive Cheltenham chase last week.

His trainer, Nigel Twiston- Davies, may bring off a notable cross-country double as Gaelstrom (1.20) has a bright chance of beating the hot favourite, Travado, in Ascot's main event, the H & T Walker Gold Cup. Gaelstrom is the less experienced of the pair, but is greatly favoured by the weights.