Racing: Quickest on the draw is Damalis

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The Independent Online
NO HATS, no posers, no chance of being buttonholed by Jeff Banks - what a blissful place Ascot promises to be this afternoon. The horses, admittedly, are of a rather lower standard than those running earlier in the week, but most serious racegoers, the ones who pay their entrance money 12 months of the year, may agree that it is a small price to pay.

Nor is it all handicappers at non-Royal Ascot, since time may show that one of the best performers of the week was a runner at today's Heath meeting.

Flaming Quest, who runs in the New Stakes over a mile and a half, has won his last two races and is a high-class three-year-old in the making, which is why only three trainers - one of them the ever-optimistic Clive Brittain - have bothered to oppose him. There seems little point in punters attempting to find an alternative, although Flaming Quest's odds will be impossibly short.

There is rather more chance of repairing some of the damage of the last four days in the day's most valuable race, the Ladbroke Handicap. The field of 11 is manageable, while surprisingly few of the runners have an obvious chance on their recent form.

One who does, though, is Another Time (next best 3.35), who has been sliding down the weights this season and is now on a reasonable mark judged on his winning form last season. He also goes well on fast ground, and while this morning's odds of 7-2 are not large, it is difficult to see a worthwhile alternative.

The draw could be important in the five-furlong handicap, particularly in view of the result of the King's Stand Stakes yesterday, when an outsider drawn three beat another from stall one, with the horse drawn two back in third.

The obvious choice would seem to be First Musical, who was second to Pepperdine in a valuable handicap seven days ago, and is in stall one today. That run was on an easy surface, though, and he may not reproduce the form on today's much faster ground. Grey Princess (drawn two) finished last on her most recent outing, while She-Wolff (drawn three) is making her seasonal debut, which leads the eye to Damalis (2.30) (in stall four). She ran well on fast ground at Chester earlier this year, and also has plenty of early speed. If she bounces out and gets to the rail, she will be difficult to pass.

Another with a good chance is Holly Blue (2.00) in the opener, although her ability to act on the ground must be taken on trust. There are no such doubts, however, about Colway Ritz (4.00), however, who returns to Redcar this afternoon in an attempt to repeat his course-and-distance success of two runs ago. That was on firm going, while his recent disappointing performance came on good to soft. Back on a quick surface today, he will take all the beating.

The French Champion Hurdle, which is run at Auteuil tomorrow, is a race which many British fans do not regard with much affection, since it was the contest in which the great Dawn Run was killed back in 1986.

Ferdy Murphy clearly does not see that as a poor omen, though, since he will saddle French Holly, who finished third to Istabraq in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, in tomorrow's renewal. French Holly won his first race over French hurdles, the Prix la Barka, at the end of last month, and Murphy said yesterday that "he is 100 per cent and everything has gone fantastically well."

Six horses beaten by French Holly in the Barka re-oppose him tomorrow over an extra six furlongs, but Murphy believes the added distance is in his favour. "You need a bit of luck in running," he said, "but if he gets that, he will definitely run a big race."