Racing: Top Spin ready to take Action: A progressive hurdler of proven stamina can show that deeds speak louder than words and catch out a Cheltenham talking horse

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The Independent Online
WHEN TRAINERS make grand predictions for horses it is easy - indeed prudent - to ignore them, but when the objective judges at Timeform do so it is harder to dismiss.

'Will be very hard to beat in novice hurdles, even come Cheltenham in March', was their verdict on Large Action after his success three weeks ago, and the gelding will start at a suitably short price in this afternoon's Challow Hurdle at Newbury, his first race since. Yet hot favourites and heavy going can be a poisonous mix, and anyone approaching Large Action as a chance to buy money should also bear in mind that he has yet to race beyond 17 furlongs.

Not so Top Spin, his most credible opponent, who is untroubled by deep ground and has been improved by a step up in trip this season. His last two victories in particular, which included a Grade Two event at Sandown last month, have revealed a horse of great promise. 'He's got a bit older and a bit stronger, but stepping him up in distance has helped him as well,' John Jenkins, Top Spin's trainer, said yesterday. 'Up until now he's never really been strong enough to cope with it, and he was getting chopped for speed.'

Jenkins will not allow Large Action to dominate his thinking. 'He won well at Cheltenham but when you go for a race like the Challow it's not going to be easy. Ours is a nice little horse and he'll give a good account.' Good enough to win, probably, and while less imaginative backers place heavy bets on Large Action, anyone wanting value will be on Top Spin (1.40).

The old adage that a horse should be forgiven one bad run might encourage support for Grange Brake in the Ladbroke Gold Cup, as Nigel Twiston- Davies's chaser had shown progressive form prior to his lifeless display at Uttoxeter a fortnight ago. It was a most disappointing display, though, and Jenny Pitman's Do Be Brief (next best 2.15), winner of his last two races, is a more dependable choice.

The fact that David Nicholson is considering running Mysilv, a four-year-old, in the Champion Hurdle implies that he has another juvenile hurdler in his yard up to Triumph Hurdle standard. Winter Forest (12.40) is a plausible candidate and should make a winning debut in the opener, while Nikitas (1.10), who has developed into a consistent handicapper, can record his first win of the season half a hour later.

The outstanding bet of the day is in the apparently unpromising Hungerford Handicap Chase, a four-runner event in which GNOME'S TYCOON (nap 3.15) has every chance. Twice a winner in Ireland last year, Gnome's Tycoon was picked up for a relatively modest 29,000gns at Doncaster's August sale, and won his first race in Britain by 15 lengths, eased down. Unfamiliarity may breed contempt among the Newbury punters, but Gnome's Tycoon is a horse with a future and is likely to warrant much more respect after this afternoon.

Punters hoping to pay for their next New Year's Eve party were yesterday backing Lanfranco Dettori to become the first official champion jockey. The title - set up by a bookmaking sponsor - makes no distinction between winners on turf and all-weather tracks, and therefore the race starts at Lingfield this afternoon and will end with Wolverhampton's floodlit fixture on 31 December.

Dettori and Pat Eddery are the only credible contenders, but while the latter is likely to restrict himself to the turf season, Dettori has no reluctance to tackle the all-weather circuit, and has six booked rides at Lingfield today.

In the hope - or expectation - that he will start the turf season with a considerable lead over Eddery, punters yesterday backed Dettori to 2-1 for the championship, from 11-4, while Eddery eased out to 5-4 from evens as a result. Dettori is 7-4 with Hills, behind Eddery at 11-8, but given the conditions of the competition, and Dettori's new contract with John Gosden, the odds about the Italian still appear remarkably generous.

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