Racing: Morley to defy Ruling: Richard Edmondson on the horses to watch in this afternoon's Festival rehearsals throughout the country

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The Independent Online
THE MOST difficult sporting assignment this afternoon rests between Steve Rider's five-hour stint in the Grandstand studio, the Welsh pack's struggle against the English at the Cardiff Arms Park or Mark Dwyer's ride in the 3.10 at Sandown. At least Rider and the rugby men will get help from their workmates.

The assistance available to Dwyer will end the moment he gets the leg up on Ruling before the Agfa Hurdle. The Irish jockey will then have to cajole one of racing's most recalcitrant characters, a horse as lazy as he is talented.

Dwyer has already done the booting and scrubbing on the seven-year-old this year, when he made his seasonal debut at Haydock, but the man who is usually at the controls is Peter Niven.

Niven has already guided Ruling into third place in the Champion Hurdle in successive years, and with Dwyer committed to Mick Easterby's Coulton, he will again take up the reins on 16 March this year. Despite his mount's achievements, Niven knows he will never get the sensation he is partnering a champion when he slips onto Ruling's saddle.

'To tell you the truth, he's a little monkey,' the jockey said yesterday. 'He never actually gives you a real feeling of class, but he's obviously got some guts.'

Part of the problem of riding Ruling is that he is still an entire (connections presumably would like to market this regally bred horse as a stallion), competing against horses who have been placated by gelding. 'He's still a colt and that brings its own problems,' Niven said. ' He's got more revs than most geldings.'

Niven expects Ruling to not only benefit from this afternoon's race but also to take in another tuner before arriving at the Festival, when all of his rivals today may again be in opposition.

The winner here is likely to be either Valfinet, who raises doubts as he is between handicap company and the top level, or Morley Street (3.10), who raises doubts as there is something unreliable between his eyes. The eyes may have it.

Rushing Wild, like Valfinet a Martin Pipe horse trying to scrabble up the grades, will hurt many ante-post backers if he cannot cruise through his Gold Cup trial.

The former point-to-pointer looked impressive at Sandown last time, but he was taking on horses either too old or too sick to do themselves justice. Nigel Twiston- Davies's Captain Dibble (2.35) falls into neither of those categories and should further enhance his Cheltenham claims, for the Sun Alliance Novice Chase.

Twiston-Davies's other young staying chaser of note, Young Hustler, will also go well in the Scilly Isles Novice Chase, but may be outspeeded by Gay Ruffian (1.25), while the race the bookmakers have been trumpeting all week (and coincidentally the most difficult to fathom), the Tote Jackpot Handicap Hurdle, merits long-priced speculation on Belafonte (next best 2.00). The other televised race at the Esher course, on the grounds of his name and, more influentially, his promise, should go to Home Counties (12.55).

Chepstow's most alluring event is a novice hurdle which has drawn vaunted reputations from all over the country. The one which is likely to remain at the end of the afternoon belongs to LO STREGONE (nap 2.00), who showed he could knuckle down to the job as well as thrash moderate opponents when successful at Haydock two weeks ago.

The first event at the Welsh course features three horses closely matched on form. The dominant factor here may be the way the race is run and as Last 'O' The Bunch (1.00) will be allowed to dominate, he is the safest proposition.

The schedule of Grand National trials begins in the remaining televised race, a handicap which includes three runners not entered for Aintree. One of them, Fiddlers Pike (1.30), should win.

Results, page 49

(Photograph omitted)

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