Racing: Word power to dazzle veterans: Gifford's progressive chaser can give punters cause to raise the roof over the season's richest National Hunt card outside the Festival

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The Independent Online
THE FUTURE of National Hunt racing lies in the hands of a man with a yard brush and a container of disinfectant this morning. If any bugs survive the stable scrub down at Kempton, which has attracted an army of potential Cheltenham horses, the Festival may as well be scrapped.

Indeed, an eight-race card featuring the Racing Post Chase and the Greenalls Gold Cup (on transfer from abandoned Haydock) now has just the Prestbury Park carnival ahead of it in grandeur. The pounds 163,000 available in prize- money makes this the richest day's National Hunt racing in Britain outside the Festival.

The most valuable piece in this treasure chest is the Racing Post Chase, for which 16 are to go to post. One notable absentee is Martin Pipe's Hawthorn Blaze, favourite for the race earlier this week. The champion trainer was at the races yesterday and his staff at Wellington thought it should be a secret as to why the gelding would not be running.

Francois Doumen, on the other hand, has been most open in recent days, revealing that The Fellow, today's top- weight, is not fully tuned for this venture, which is an hors- d'oeuvre on the way to the Gold Cup. Believe the Frenchman and ignore his horse.

A few other old favourites - dual winner Docklands Express, Toby Tobias and Solidasarock - turn out here, but this has the feel of a race that will go to one of the puppies. Rough Quest, who was fourth to Miinnehoma in the Sun Alliance Chase at Cheltenham two years ago, has to be considered off his low weight, even though Tim Etherington has been playing down his chances this week. The Dorking trainer admits, though, that he is in Tim Forster's league for pessimism.

Rough Quest may just be outpointed by another freshman, Josh Gifford's Fighting Words (next best 4.10), who put up a good time when beating Thursday's Wincanton winner Dublin Flyer over course and distance at Christmas.

The Greenalls Gold Cup will be contested by some horses salivating at the prospect of overdue competition. The fancied Moorcroft Boy and Master Oats are just two runners who were due to compete in the twice-abandoned Eider Chase last weekend.

The change of venue from Haydock this weekend has prompted William Hill and Ladbrokes to declare ante-post bets void, though Coral is giving punters the option of sticking with their wagers. What also remains is the pounds 54,000 bonus for a horse that finishes in the first three here and goes on to success at Aintree.

Young Hustler, who is one on course for Liverpool, usually has as many Saturdays off as Noel Edmonds and will feel as though he is returning from a sabbatical after an absence of three weeks. He is overlooked in favour of MASTER OATS (nap 4.40), whose Lingfield victory last month is beginning to look outstanding.

The other two live televised events are dominated by Pipe and David Nicholson. The former saddles half the field for the Pendil Novices' Chase (even the Pond House secretariat have not been able to cover that up), including the hugely promising Lord Relic. Quoted in the Gold Cup lists despite having run just once over fences, he could be surprised by Monsieur Le Cure (3.35).

Nicholson provides two of the three runners in the Adonis Hurdle and should succeed with one of Jackdaws Castle's highest flyers, Mysilv (3.00), who is already at the bewilderingly short price of 9-4 for the Triumph Hurdle.

Two other fascinating contests contribute to a card which should have every racing fan searching out the mackintosh. Mary Reveley's Cab On Target, who strayed from the Yellow Brick Road over fences, continues his rehabilitation in the Rendlesham Hurdle, while the great Remittance Man ends 459 days in the wilderness when he returns for the Emblem Chase.

The 10-year-old has been beaten just once over fences and never at this distance. He will not be the only one to test the structure of the Sunbury roof on a compelling day for enthusiasts.