Racing: Welshman solution to sticky puzzle: On ground like glue, an outsider's chance in the Tote Gold Trophy becomes as clear as mud

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The Independent Online
THE stewards' first duty at Newbury yesterday was to slosh around the course in mid-morning and prod the softest patches with a walking stick. After a night of heavy rain, the track scraped through the examination, but the same could not be said of many of the afternoon's runners.

'The ground is like glue,' was Jimmy Frost's opinion after he had coaxed Cabochon to success in the opener, and today's runners may be tempted to abandon galloping in favour of the front crawl. The heavy going is bad news for supporters of Oh So Risky and High Baron in the Tote Gold Trophy, and nor will it make life easier for Large Action, the season's leading novice, as he squares up to the hardened handicappers.

Under the circumstances, punters may be irritated that Oh So Risky is taking part at all. Carrying top weight of 12st for his seasonal debut on ground he detests, he is most unlikely to be given a hard race when his principal target, the Champion Hurdle, is barely a month away. Yet his presence has shunted five of the 11 runners, including leading fancy Nijmegen, out of the handicap proper.

In these conditions, though, form study often condenses to the simple question: is it sure to go on the ground? Ask it rigorously, and only Flakey Dove, Nijmegen and Welshman pass without a murmur. The best prices about those three this morning are, respectively, 4-1 (Hills), 7-1 (Ladbrokes) and 40-1 (Ladbrokes again). You do not need a degree in value-appreciation to work out which represents the best bet.

Make no mistake, Welshman (2.15) is a speculative choice, but far from the no- hoper which that quote might imply (Coral show just 20-1). His overall form shows him to be a splendidly genuine hurdler whose consistency and quality are particularly apparent when conditions are difficult. True, he might prefer an extra couple of furlongs, but then so might Flakey Dove, and Welshman has put up several worthy performances over the minimum trip. He is a false price at 40-1, and well worth an early trip to the local Ladbrokes.

The supporting card suffers from the absence of Remittance Man, the former two-mile champion chaser, who had been due to race for the first time in 15 months in the Game Spirit Chase before the rains descended. His successor, Deep Sensation, does run, but has shown his best form so rarely this year that he is fourth-favourite in a five-runner field.

Sybillin (next best 1.40) is already favourite for this year's Two-Mile Champion Chase, and today's race should demonstrate why. Though beaten over hurdles by Flakey Dove last time, his previous success, on his seasonal debut in the Tingle Creek Trophy, remains the season's best run by any chaser at the minimum trip.

The Mandarin Handicap Chase, which has been moved from the New Year meeting, provides the card's strongest bet. Fighting Words has a fighting chance, but carrying top weight in today's ground may be beyond him, and RATHVINDEN HOUSE (nap 1.10) can take advantage. A winner over today's trip last time, he will just be getting into his stride as most of the field starts to tie up.

The going is scarcely any easier at Uttoxeter, but Furry Baby (1.30) is unlikely to mind and Festival candidates Honest Word (2.00) and Nakir (3.00) should come through their prep races without incident. Honest Word's performance may be particularly significant - total dominance may persuade Stan Clarke, his owner, to run his other leading novice, Lord Relic, in the Gold Cup, and prompt some major rearrangements in betting on the Sun Alliance Chase.

One Man, winner of the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot on Wednesday, is now joint- favourite for the Sun Alliance at 4-1, having been a 7-1 chance immediately afterwards. He may be clear favourite unless his market rival, the Irish-trained Merry Gale, wins with authority at Leopardstown tomorrow.

The feature race of that card, postponed from last weekend, is Jodami's Cheltenham Gold Cup warm-up in the Hennessy Gold Cup. Peter Beaumont, Jodami's trainer, said this week that an extra seven days' preparation would be in his runner's favour. If so, Chatam, the second-favourite, is unlikely to get any closer to Jodami than the head by which he was defeated last year, and the home-based challengers are wasting their time.

Reputations were on the line at Newbury yesterday, too, and not all survived. Mysilv shortened to 3-1 for the Triumph Hurdle after comfortably beating two opponents in the Stroud Green Hurdle, but will surely drift out on the day when she has 29 rivals to deal with, and is dreadful value at present. It should be remembered that Attivo, in 1974, was the last successful favourite in the Triumph. Rodeo Star did rather less for his credentials. He was removed from betting on the Arkle Trophy after finishing last of four in the Arkell Brewery Handicap Chase. The favourite for that race, Current Express, was scratched from yesterday's engagement due to the heavy going.

The elements may also frustrate the plans of Reg Wilkins to run Double Silk, the Grand National favourite, at Plumpton on Monday. Last season's champion hunter is in need of a race, but the meeting depends on a 9.30am inspection tomorrow and the prospects are 'not too good'.