Racing: Superior Finish to polish off Leader

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The Independent Online
FORTUNE has played some desperate tricks on Norman Williamson in recent days. A dubious riding ban forced him to sit out the Cheltenham Festival; while attending an unsuccessful appeal against the suspension, he missed a winner; and to rub handfuls of salt into the wound, two of his booked Festival rides, Flakey Dove and Monsieur Le Cure, returned triumphant, writes Greg Wood.

For punters, superstitious as they often are, there are two ways of looking at Williamson's run of misfortune. Some will treat his mounts with caution normally reserved for a pit bull with a personality disorder. Others, though, will reason that his luck must change some time, and try to be sure that they are on when it does.

Given that Williamson's first ride back from suspension yesterday was a winner, the latter school of thought will probably prevail and help to ensure that Shraden Leader, his mount in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter today, will start a warm favourite. Sound jumping and progressive form are other points in the gelding's favour, but there is an important deficiency which Shraden Leader's odds may not reflect. Today's four and a quarter mile trip is six furlongs longer than he has so far attempted, and if he is beaten it is lack of stamina, rather than any hex attached to his jockey, which is most likely to be his downfall.

Indeed, there are relatively few chasers who truly stay such a marathon trip, though Shraden Leader bears more than a passing resemblance to one who certainly does. Party Politics, the 1992 Grand National winner, is an enormous animal who was purchased shortly before his Aintree success by David and Patricia Thompson. Shraden Leader reputedly stands even taller than Party Politics and was recently bought by the Thompsons.

Punters tend to latch on to such coincidences, too, but it is hard to find justification for Shraden Leader's morning-line odds of around 7-2. If the market leader is underpriced, however, it follows that there is value further down the list. SUPERIOR FINISH (nap 3.35), a lightly raced chaser who struck form last time, will go well at twice the price of the favourite.

Novice chases precede and follow the big race. The first involves too many unreliable jumpers to stand attention, but River Pearl (next best 4.10) is more reliable in the second. Uluru (4.40) and Lake Teereen (2.30) also merit respect.