Racing: Into The Red's account overdue

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The Independent Online
When some diligent recent research traced the remains of Captain Becher, he of the nose-dive into a stream near Liverpool, to an unmarked grave in Paddington, there was immediate talk of a fund-raising drive to erect a suitable headstone, but it is an idea which, though well-intentioned, rather misses the point.

For whatever his vantage point may be for today's meeting at Liverpool, the good Captain will surely appreciate that he could have no finer memorial than the most famous fence in steeplechasing, while today's Becher Chase over the National obstacles will once again reinforce the unique appeal of racing over the big fir fences. On a day when fast ground has depleted the fields at both televised meetings, the highlight will come as eight runners set off to tackle the Chair, the Canal Turn and, of course, Becher's Brook, and any punter worthy of the name will feel compelled to take an interest.

The most obvious contenders are Young Hustler, the winner of this race 12 months ago and still, incredibly, only nine years of age, and Scotton Banks, winner of the Martell Cup at the National meeting, but at around 6-4 and 3-1 respectively, neither makes enormous appeal.

Young Hustler has not won in eight outings since his victory here last year, and seems finally to have started a steady, if gradual, decline, and while today's track, trip and going should be ideal, 5-2 would be a more realistic price. Scotton Banks, meanwhile, is talented and generally progressive, but has performed dreadfully in two of his four most recent runs and was last on his reappearance.

Glemot seems most unlikely to see out today's trip, especially since Young Hustler and Straight Talk should ensure a good pace, and a more interesting bet is the winner of the race two years ago, INTO THE RED (nap 2.10). Though now a 12-year-old, he was still up to making a successful seasonal debut two weeks ago, and saves his best for the National fences. He was going well when he fell two out behind Young Hustler 12 months ago, and one final big-race victory is within his grasp.

The feature event at Ascot is the First National Bank Chase, which has been through more incarnations than Doctor Who but remains a valuable test for first and second-season chasers. Generally, runners with the benefit of an extra year over fences are those on which to focus, but this year Strong Promise, who ran in his first chase just two months ago, is likely to start at around even-money.

The reason is his remarkable performance seven days ago, when he ran Challenger Du Luc to a neck from 19lb out of the handicap in the Murphy's Gold Cup. Since he is effectively 19lb lower in the ratings today, Geoff Hubbard's chaser is not so much a blot on the handicap as a thick, dripping splurge, but what punters must wonder is whether he will be up to winning so soon after such a hard race.

It is enough of a doubt to make him worth opposing with small stakes, and Nick Henderson's Golden Spinner (next best 2.30), who ran well first time up at Sandown, looks overpriced at 10-1. Back at Aintree, Tom Brodie will be fancied for the handicap hurdle, but the track may be too sharp for him and in an open race Thornton Gate (1.35) is a tentative pick.

The remainder of the televised card is of academic interest, as the hugely promising Simply Dashing attempts to make it three out of three over fences at Liverpool and the Aurelius Hurdle at Ascot pits four useful juveniles against four new recruits, the most interesting of which is Blurred.

More intriguing still is the last major race of the international Flat season, the Japan Cup, which will bring Helissio, Geoff Wragg's Pentire and Saintly, winners of the Arc, King George and Melbourne Cup respectively, together in Tokyo. Singspiel and Strategic Choice will join Pentire in attempting to become only the second British-trained winner of the race.