Racing: Windy to land National blow: Uttoxeter stages a marathon but the Gold Cup winner's exertions are put on hold

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The Independent Online
PUNTERS who spent yesterday in a darkened room trying to forget about the Festival may feel the nausea returning when they see this afternoon's televised card: five handicaps, and all bar one with a double-figure field. There will be few soft landings for the desperate.

What there will be is formlines drawn in the Grand National quicksand, as candidates for the greatest annual challenge of them all start their final rehearsals. The four miles two furlongs of this afternoon's Midlands National, just a quarter of a mile less than the Aintree trip, will sort out a horse with enough stamina, but while the winner might normally be expected to shrink swiftly in the Liverpool lists, that may not be the case today.

The one to be on is WINDY WAYS (nap 3.35), who is entered at Aintree - but not in the National. 'I've always said that he's a National horse,' his trainer, Nick Henderson, said yesterday, but the temptation to enter him this year was resisted to give him more time to gain valuable experience. The John Hughes Memorial Chase on the meeting's opening day is the target for Windy Ways this time around, with an excursion over one circuit of the big fences likely to provide a valuable pointer for 1994.

The principal points in favour of Windy Ways today are his jumping, which is impeccable, and a light season which promises more improvement to come when many of his rivals have all but had enough for the year. Windy Ways showed promise in his novice season - second place in the four-mile National Hunt Challenge Cup at the Festival leaves no room for doubts about his stamina - but then broke down and was fired before returning at Cheltenham in December. After three promising runs - including a close fourth to Jodami at Newbury in January - he returned to the winners' enclosure at Towcester nine days ago. He can do so again today.

The gentle campaign enjoyed by Windy Ways bears little resemblance to that of Winnie The Witch, who contests the final of the Tattersalls Mares Novice Chase Series just four days after running fifth in the Arkle Trophy at the Festival. She made little impression there, and her exertions can be expected to have taken their toll.

Duo Drom (next best 4.10) is a bigger price than Ken Bridgwater's mare, but has the beating of her on form from Nottingham in January. Her capable jumping and liking for good ground can serve her well today.

There were bitter mutterings about pilot error after Lake Mission's narrow defeat at Newbury a fortnight ago. All was going according to plan for the favourite as he set off up the run-in apparently going better than Panto Prince, but when Adie Smith, his young jockey, reached for his whip, Lake Mission gave up precious ground by veering violently left. Panto Prince's jockey that day was Richard Dunwoody, and having studied that reaction at such close hand he is unlikely to make the same mistake when he takes over on Lake Mission (2.30) today.

Polar Region is the morning line favourite for the next, but punters are likely to be concerned about his place of origin. Jimmy FitzGerald's string appears to be under a cloud once more, and fingers badly burned on Sybillin and Trainglot last week will not be readily returned to the furnace. Red Amber (3.00) is a safer selection and can complete a quick double for Dunwoody and Simon Sherwood.

Sea Buck (4.40) is not long on consistency and needs constant encouragement from the saddle to give his best, but should go on the ground more readily than several of his rivals.