Racing: Super Coin provides best value

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The Independent Online
THE MAIN chase of the weekend last week attracted just three runners, and one of the feature events this afternoon has only five, but while the field for the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock is small, it could hardly be more perfectly-formed. The last two Grand National winners, Earth Summit and Lord Gyllene, will face the horse who finished second on both occasions, Suny Bay. Add in The Grey Monk, who won this race last year, and it has all the challenging depth of a good cryptic crossword.

The only downside from a punting point of view is that the conditions of the race allow Suny Bay, who on official ratings, at least, is the best steeplechaser in Britain, to set off with just 10st 12lb on his back. Having plodded around Aintree in heavy ground last spring under top weight of 12st, he is unlikely even to notice when Graham Bradley swings into his saddle this afternoon. The Grey Monk, by contrast, must attempt to give him 12lb, while Earth Summit, who beat Suny Bay by 11 lengths in the National, is now 23lb worse off.

It all seems to add up to a straightforward assignment for Suny Bay, although it is a shame that Lord Gyllene, who looked like one of the best National victors for years when he won the race two seasons ago, has not raced since. Suny Bay, interestingly, was giving 3lb to Lord Gyllene that day, but was beaten by 25 lengths. Suny Bay's achievements since, even allowing for his significant improvement, emphasise what a remarkable performance Steve Brookshaw's chaser produced that day.

So remarkable, in fact, that while Lord Gyllene is entitled to need the race today, it is impossible to recommend a bet on Suny Bay at long odds- on. The Tommy Whittle is a race to watch and savour, while the Tripleprint Gold Cup at Cheltenham is the one to bet on, as 13 runners will go to post and all but one or two do so with a chance.

Tony McCoy has spent many hours in the sauna in recent days, sweating down to 10st to ride Tamarindo yesterday and Northern Starlight this afternoon. Stage one went according to plan when Tamarindo, who is now the 7-2 favourite for the Welsh National with the race's sponsor, Coral, held on to win the big chase yesterday, but McCoy's next square meal will have to wait as Northern Starlight is set to carry just 1lb more today.

Northern Starlight won the novice chase on this card 12 months ago, so the track and trip hold no worries, but he does not appear as progressive as either Stormy Passage or the horse he beat at Newbury last time out, Mr Strong Gale. They may all struggle, though, to beat SUPER COIN (nap 2.30), who is three years older than Northern Starlight, but is on a run of improvement which took in the Mildmay of Flete Chase at the Festival here in March and which simply refuses to end.

The undercard at Cheltenham is typically strong, and the Bula Hurdle in particular brings together some likely challengers to Istabraq when the Champion Hurdle is run over this course and distance in three months' time.

Grey Shot looked like championship material when winning a valuable handicap at Cheltenham's last meeting, but it may be that one of hurdling's most tireless campaigners, Dato Star (next best 3.05) will keep his form and fitness long enough this year to make a permanent mark on the timber division.

The Bristol Novices' Hurdle, for stayers, is also a strong contest, with Bosuns Mate (3.40) a narrow pick, and so too the handicap which closes the card at Haydock, even though only five runners remain from 18 initial entries. Badge Of Fame is on a long winning run, but Sadler's Realm (3.15) is progressive, too, and may just have his measure today.

Lingfield has decided to reprieve jump racing from the executioner's axe for its two best meetings of the year. That includes today's card where the French raider Hors La Loi III (1.20) and German challenger Lion King add lustre to the Summit Junior Hurdle.