Racing: Mahler revival to stun Bobbyjo

SO THIS, suddenly, is it. No more first-fence fallers, no more cursing as your jockey goes out the side exit, and no more wondering what might have been but for that bad blunder two out. Or not for another six months, at any rate, because the Whitbread Gold Cup effectively marks the end of the 1998-99 National Hunt season. All that diehard followers of the winter code can do between now and October is book early for the Cheltenham Festival, and perhaps plan a trip to Galway or Punchestown.

But the jumpers do at least have a fine race with which to take their leave. It is just two weeks since Bobbyjo bounded cheerfully around Aintree to become the first Irish-trained National winner in a generation, but he is back in Britain for the Whitbread, and sure to start favourite this afternoon. The 18 horses lined up against him include Baronet, last year's Scottish National winner, Boss Doyle, who was one of Ireland's best novices last year, and Betty's Boy, who won a valuable chase at the Festival.

One absentee, though, will be Paul Carberry, who rode Bobbyjo at Aintree. A recent injury while riding work for Noel Meade has ruled Carberry out, and his place will be taken by Adrian Maguire, who rode last year's Whitbread winner, Call It A Day. "I sat on Bobbyjo this morning," Maguire said yesterday, "and he feels fine."

While he might feel fine at exercise there must be some doubt about whether Bobbyjo will run up to his best so soon after the National. It is true that he might not need to, since he ran off an 11lb higher mark at Liverpool, and also worth noting that he ran twice within a fortnight last season, and did rather better in the second race than the first. Nothing exhausts a horse quite like the National, however, and this race, Bobbyjo's seventh of the season, could be one too many. In the circumstances, the quote of 3-1 is easily resisted.

And there are doubts too about several of his opponents. Baronet's jumping is often very shaky, Betty's Boy would like faster ground, and Boss Doyle has yet to recapture last year's form, which could leave the way clear for an outsider. The one who catches the eye is MAHLER (nap 3.30).

Mahler would probably prefer a softer surface, but otherwise he is a very solid 12-1 chance, now that a back problem which troubled him earlier this year seems to have been cured. On the pick of his form last year - his win in the pounds 100,000 Heineken Gold Cup at Punchestown - he is very well handicapped, and his staying-on sixth over an inadequate trip at Aintree last time hinted at a return to his best.

There are just five runners in the preceding novice chase, yet it is much harder to find a worthwhile bet. Andsuephi (2.50) may be a little more reliable than Dines, who won last time out despite almost refusing to start and losing 20 lengths in the process, but it is the Flat events which offer more of interest.

Many punters will not look beyond Glamis in the Thresher Classic Trial, given that John Gosden wins the race with monotonous regularity, and this Derby prospect has already won well this season. A value alternative, though, could be Dehoush (next best, 4.10), who won the Easter Stakes at Kempton despite finding trouble in running. The Brigadier Gerard Stakes, meanwhile, could fall to Secret Saver (4.45), who would prefer an extra couple of furlongs but might just find this stiff 10 furlongs an adequate test.

One contest which you will not be able to bet on is the Tote Challenge at 1.15, a match which pits Tony McCoy, the champion over jumps, against Frankie Dettori, the "people's champion" on the Flat (Keiren Fallon, presumably, was not interested).

They will ride O'Garney Park and Omar's Odyssey, both of them very ordinary horses from Philip Mitchell's yard and chosen for their equal (lack of) ability. The winner can hardly claim to be the best rider in Britain, but he will at least receive pounds 5,000, to be donated to the charity of his choice.

n Robert Thornton is to part company with David Nicholson. Last year's champion conditional has turned freelance after four years with the Jackdaws Castle trainer.

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