Racing: Pershing to cruise home in Mackeson: Improving chaser has the weight advantage in the first big race of the National Hunt season

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The Independent Online
THE NAME is a throwback to the days of Woodbines and winkle-pickers, but the race points the way to an exciting future. Though they were racing at Bangor as long ago as July, it is only this afternoon, when 15 runners set off for the Mackeson Gold Cup at Cheltenham, that the jumps season will truly begin.

But one ingredient will be missing, it seems: the mud. Though some bookmakers were yesterday reluctant to release their morning-line odds for fear of 'unsettled weather', the going forecast is good and a concerted downpour unlikely. When the runners return, they will be brushing them off, not hosing them down.

Given the Mackeson's fierce competitiveness, of course, not all are likely to return; at least, not at the gallop. In particular, Morley Street's supporters will be closing their eyes as each obstacle approaches. Success in the 1991 Champion Hurdle and two Breeders' Cup Chases cannot erase the memory of Morley Street's reluctant displays through much of last season, nor his abortive novice chasing career two years earlier.

Scratching Morley Street, though, still leaves at least a dozen chasers with the form to win this afternoon, even after Panto Prince, who bruised himself in his box yesterday, became a late non-runner.

After his success with Vintage Crop in the Melbourne Cup, it would be just like Dermot Weld to demonstrate his versatility by saddling General Idea to win the Mackeson. Bradbury Star may now be ready to realise his considerable potential, Second Schedual represents David Nicholson and Adrian Maguire, and last year's Grand Annual winner, Space Fair, has the going he needs.

Yet all of these must give weight to GENERAL PERSHING (nap 2.00), a task which may prove beyond them. Gordon Richards's chaser won five of his final six races last term, showing improvement which, at the age of seven, may well be continuing. He was second over an inadequate two miles at Wetherby on his seasonal debut, when the form book judged that he would be better for the race, beaten eight lengths by King Of The Lot. That one was an easy winner at Cheltenham yesterday, and General Pershing can further cement the form today.

The supporting card sees the reappearance of Zeta's Lad and Royal Athlete, leading figures in April's not-so-Grand National. Both are likely to have Aintree on their agenda again this season, but an emerging generation of young staying chasers will make their task much harder. Far Senior, who races in the Mr Frisk colours and takes them on today, is one of those youngbloods, but Springaleak (next best 12.50), back to form after a disappointing time last term, could beat them all. Her trainer, Oliver Sherwood, should repeat the trick half an hour later with Leotard (1.25).

Thirty-one years ago, the Mackeson undercard gave British racegoers their first sight of Arkle, who won the novice chase by 20 lengths. We should perhaps be thankful that, in 1962, race-sponsorship was in its infancy, otherwise the great horse might have been introduced to the public in the 'Andy and Tracey's Wedding Novice Chase', in which both Native Mission and Rodeo Star make their fencing debuts at Nottingham today.

What fun; and what next? Could we follow the course of Andy and Tracey's marriage via race titles? Stand by for the 'Consummation Handicap', the 'Andy's Working Late at the Office Hurdle' and the 'Tracey's Gone Back To Her Mother's Chase' . . .

In today's race, expect Native Mission (2.50) to take to the big obstacles rather better than Rodeo Star, whose stable is struggling at present. A stable which would usually be idle, Henry Cecil's, sends a runner to Lingfield's all- weather Flat meeting, but if Cecil is attempting to overhaul Richard Hannon's prize- money total and strengthen his claim to be the champion trainer, today at least he may be disappointed. Able Choice (12.20) can beat Cecil's Tribeca.

(Photograph omitted)

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