Racing: Pipe player to take the lead: Greg Wood expects Miinnehoma to pass his audition at Chepstow this afternoon

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The Independent Online
AS BEFITS a rehearsal, all the extras have stayed at home, but while today's four-runner Rehearsal Chase will make few backers' fortunes, it will exert a powerful influence on betting markets until Christmas and beyond.

Martin Pipe saddles 75 per cent of the field, but while Run For Free and even Bonanza Boy, a previous winner of this race, might have a say in the finish, it is Miinnehoma, last year's Sun Alliance Chase winner, who will merit the most eager attention among the trainer's followers. He makes his seasonal debut this afternoon, but is already a strong favourite for the Welsh National on 28 December, and a sufficiently impressive performance this afternoon might prompt a diversion to the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The sole opponent for Team Pipe is Cool Ground, the Gold Cup winner, whose trainer, Toby Balding, is grateful simply for the chance to get a run into his horse before the richer targets ahead.

Chepstow's track is only just the right side of raceable after the recent rain - Sandown passed an inspection yesterday afternoon and anticipates no problems - but Balding is not concerned about asking Cool Ground to shoulder top weight in the heavy going.

'He's a big strong horse and he doesn't mind the ground,' the trainer said yesterday. 'The bottom weight's 10st 7lb, so he's only giving them 20lb, and Run For Free is running 6lb above his handicap weight. My own view is that Run For Free is the danger, but I know that the (Pipe) stable fancies the other one more.'

Run For Free has the benefit of an outing, but given Pipe's proven ability to produce horses to win first time, and Peter Scudamore's selection of Miinnehoma (2.05), the Sun Alliance Chase winner looks the one to be on. The same team should also score with Cushinstown (2.05), while at Sandown, Valfinet may well be the stable's shortest-priced runner of the afternoon, in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle.

This event is traditionally highly competitive, but Valfinet's weight was allocated prior to his decisive win at Cheltenham on Mackeson day, a display that will force him to run from a 16lb higher mark in future handicaps. The apparent leniency of his burden today accounts for his stunted price, but a three-length beating of Ketti, no matter how facile, is hardly astounding, and Valfinet looks worth opposing. Jopanini (next best 2.30) has solid form from demanding races, and in particular is sure to enjoy the testing ground, as will Balding's Cautious Rebel (1.55) in the novice handicap.

Uncle Ernie and Waterloo Boy will attract the bulk of the bets in the Tingle Creek Chase, but DEEP SENSATION (nap 3.00) can save the bookmakers. The handicapper has not yet realised just how fast Josh Gifford's young chaser is improving.