Racing: Pipe ready to stand and deliver

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The Independent Online
There are any number of pleasures associated with the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury, not the least of which is watching the massed ranks of the Tote's PR department wince with frustration as the winning owner tells reporters afterwards that it has long been a burning ambition to win "the Schweppes". The drinks firm has not sponsored today's race for almost a generation, but the stubbornness with which many cling to its old name perhaps reflects the fact that it is not simply one of the oldest sponsored handicap hurdles, but still, in the minds of many punters, the best.

A big field of two-milers belting around Newbury is about as infectious as betting can get, while the publication of the weights several weeks in advance means extra momentum from a strong ante-post market. Britain's punters have, between them, already spent thousands of hours mulling over today's race and, as a result, the market offers an accurate guide to the runners which may still be ahead of the handicapper.

It is no coincidence that four of the past five winners have started at single-figure odds, and this year four names - Edelweis Du Moulin, Mistinguett, Make A Stand and Direct Route - have attracted particular attention. Several of their rivals have no doubt been laid out for this race, but it will still be a surprise if the winner comes from outside this quartet.

In fact, many backers will be surprised by anything but victory for the hot favourite Edelweis Du Moulin, who cruised to success off an identical handicap mark at Wetherby seven days ago. Supported like a certainty ever since, he is no better than 11-4 with the big bookies this morning, though it is worth noting that on-course layers, unencumbered by ante-post liabilities, will probably offer a slightly better price this afternoon.

His chance is obvious, but it is worth noting that this is by far the most demanding task of his short career, and that his hurdling has previously fallen to pieces under pressure. With these doubts and at least three serious rivals, anything shorter than 4-1 will not represent value, and it will pay to look elsewhere for a bet.

Since Direct Route does not appear to have the scope for further improvement of either Mistinguett or Make A Stand, the choice must lie between this pair, and the deciding factor may be whether Mistinguett - or anything else for that matter - can prevent Make A Stand dictating the pace. If the evidence of last month's Lanzarote Hurdle is to be relied upon, they will not. Martin Pipe's runner ran his rivals into submission in that race just as he had in his previous two, and a repeat performance is very much to be expected today. MAKE A STAND (nap 2.20) can get to the front and stay there.

Tote Gold Trophy day also marks the moment in the season when Viking Flagship, the former two-mile champion chaser, starts to find his best form, and after two promising performances in defeat, a second successive victory in the Game Spirit Chase might appear to be his for the taking. He is worth opposing at short odds, however, and Arctic Kinsman (1.45) may spring a surprise. The 1994 Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner took a valuable chase on Grand National day last year on just his fourth outing over fences, and as a product of Nigel Twiston-Davies's gallops - allegedly used by mountaineers to prepare for Himalayan expeditions - should not lack for fitness. The same trainer's Montebel (1.15) must also go well.

The feature event at Uttoxeter is the Singer & Friedlander National Trial, though with the top weight running off a mark of just 137, it seems unlikely that the winner will have much say in the outcome at Aintree in April. The only possible exception is Lord Gyllene (next best 3.10), a chaser who, unlike many of his opponents, has yet to reach his prime. Bell Staffboy (2.10) is another to consider, but the remainder of the card is best left alone.

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