RACING: Newbury stakes hopes on forecast

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It sounds about as sensible as backing a novice chaser with vertigo, but Newbury racecourse has decided to place its faith in the weather forecasters and will inspect its rain-drenched circuit this morning to decide whether its Challow Hurdle card - which includes the Welsh National transferred from Tuesday's abandoned meeting at Chepstow - can go ahead. It will be a bleak weekend for punters if the Met Office is mistaken.

Yesterday's meeting at the Berkshire course was abandoned due to waterlogging, and the further rain which fell there during the afternoon seemed sure to claim today's entertainment too. After inspecting at 3pm, though, the course arranged a further inspection this morning in the hope that the forecast dry, windy conditions would push it just the right side of raceable.

Even if it is white smoke which rises from the roof of Newbury's smart new grandstand, the going will be just as difficult in the country's betting shops as it will be out on the track. Proven form on heavy going is a must for any horse to be worth supporting, and the three and three-quarter miles of the Welsh National will demand exceptional endurance.

The last time a major handicap chase was switched to a new venue after an abandonment was in February, when the Greenalls Gold Cup was moved from Haydock to Kempton. Master Oats was an impressive winner of that event, and by coincidence will probably start favourite for today's Welsh National, should it finally take place.

Many punters will be following his progress with mixed feelings, however. He was well supported from generous odds for Tuesday's race, but all those bets were declared void, allowing the bookmakers to open a list on today's contest with a very clear ideaof where the clever money would be going. Master Oats has form on heavy ground, but since the layers have had two chances to assess his price, they are unlikely to have erred on the side of generosity.

Party Politics was four lengths behind Master Oats in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow last month, when running for the first time in a year, and is 2lb better off this afternoon. He must have an each-way chance at around 7-1, but is generally fit first time up and may not improve significantly. Lord Relic and Chatam are too unreliable at their fences to deserve support, and Earth Summit (2.45), available at around 3-1, is an obvious alternative. Though he fell at Cheltenham last time, he was asserting his authority at the time and is normally a sound jumper. With a conveniently low weight, given the conditions, he has a major chance.

The Challow Hurdle marks the latest outing of Berude Not To, who steps up to two and a half miles in preparation for the Sun Alliance Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. With the exception of Callisoe Bay, a stablemate at Oliver Sherwood's yard, Berude Not To is probably the season's best novice hurdler, but he has yet to race on ground worse than good to soft and is a risky bet at short odds. His opponents appear poor, however, and unbiased assessment of the contest for future reference is the wise punt er's choice.

The Ladbroke Gold Cup is another difficult heat, but Warner For Winners (2.15) is in good form, acts on the soft and has Richard Dunwoody holding his reins. The champion jockey's will to win may be stronger than ever this afternoon, following the two-dayban for whip misuse he received after his success on Jailbreaker at Leicester yesterday. Dunwoody will miss just one afternoon's racing, since the suspension starts on Sunday 8 January, a fact which Jailbreaker's backers may feel is some sort of justice. Without Dunwoody's efforts, Jailbreaker would probably have finished second.

Against usual form, the BBC will televise five races if Newbury survives, and the handicap hurdle is another risky event as few of the runners will ever have encountered such testing ground. Blast Freeze (1.10) should win if she acts, while Repeat The Dose (3.15) may succeed under top weight in the Hungerford Handicap Chase.

n Monday's meetings at Ayr and Exeter are under threat from the weather. Both courses will inspect tomorrow.