Racing: Red route safest for punters

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The Independent Online
WHEN THE Flat racing season on turf began at Doncaster almost eight months ago, the first race was won by a 25-1 chance, and it would not be a surprise if the last big race of the campaign, over the same track and trip, leaves punters with a similar feeling of anticlimax (and poverty). The weather has not been kind to Yorkshire over the last couple of weeks - it rarely is - and the ground will be soft and demanding when 23 runners set out in the November Handicap. Sad though some may be to see the back of proper Flat racing, it is still no excuse to throw good money after bad.

But that is just what many punters will be doing at 3.35 this afternoon. Even though November includes both the Murphys and Hennessy Gold Cups over jumps, the November Handicap is always among the most popular betting races of the month, as backers who prefer not to see their money leave the ground go for a final hit to see them through the winter. Sometimes, they even get it right, and Quick Ransom and Snow Princess are among recent winners to have landed gambles.

This time around, there are several runners who could end up favourite, but anyone who takes a passing interest in statistics will find it hard to back anything but a three-year-old. Six of the last eight runnings of the November Handicap have fallen to this age group, but even if you concentrate on the three-year-olds alone today, there are several very likely candidates.

Edwardian, for instance, is the typical late-season improver who arrives with two wins in lesser company to his name but as much potential as any horse in the race. Due South, meanwhile, ran an excellent third last month on his first start since Royal Ascot. If bet you must, though, the one who represents the best value appears to be Red Ramona (next best 3.35), who put up a good performance to finish fourth in a strongly-run race at Ascot last time.

The rest of the card at Doncaster makes limited appeal for betting purposes, but then it does not need to, given the wealth of televised jumps racing elsewhere. At Chepstow, Irbee should be the latest recruit from pointing to mark himself out as a leading chaser of the future for Paul Nicholls, although the rule about never betting in early-season novice chases still applies.

The Tote Silver Trophy is a different matter, though, with a strong field and an old favourite, Silver Wedge, who demands to be taken on. Encouraging though it was to see him win on the Flat at Newbury recently, on his first start in a race of any sort for over two years, he has not jumped a hurdle in public for almost 1,000 days. While his best form would make him a certainty, Silver Wedge may well need more time to ease himself back in to jumping.

If Silver Wedge is ignored, the obvious one to beat him must be DICTAMN (nap 2.15), the latest of Martin Pipe's long line of imports from France. Though run out of it in the shadow of the post when a hot favourite last time out, he is Tony McCoy's pick from Martin Pipe's four initial entries and that in itself should be recommendation enough.

McCoy will certainly be keen not to fall off Dictamn out in the country at Chepstow, since he is due to jump in a helicopter immediately after the race and fly to Wincanton, where he will partner Nordic Breeze in the handicap hurdle and Pridwell in the Elite Hurdle.

Pridwell needs little introduction to seasoned punters - those with receding hairlines principally have him to blame - although his erratic tendencies seemed to be diminishing a little last season. His most interesting opponent today, though, is Bellator (3.50), who ran particularly well before falling late on in last year's Champion Hurdle and is a live outsider to do rather better next March.

The main race at Wincanton, meanwhile, is the Badger Beer Handicap Chase. Mahler and Menesonic are both staying chasers of great promise, but Stanmore (2.45) could upset them at a decent price.