Racing: Young Hustler to have the last word: An each-way chance straight from the horse's mouth may not interrupt the favourite's progress

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LAST SEASON was good, bad and ugly for the races we know as 'Nationals'. In reverse order, Rushing Wild, the Gold Cup runner-up, died in action in the Irish version at Fairyhouse, Aintree put a red nose on the face of the sport in April and, more pleasurably, Mister Ed produced one of the performances of the season to win the Midlands National at Uttoxeter.

Roger Curtis's gelding left his opponents 15 lengths and more in his wake and also left behind the course record set by Laura's Beau, which was broken by 25 seconds.

The 10-year-old is building up to Uttoxeter and Liverpool again this year and continues his programme this afternoon in the Betterware Cup at Ascot. While the stamina of some of his rivals today will be petering out in the closing stages, Mister Ed will only just be warming to his work and, if anything, the extended three miles of this journey is on the short side for him.

'He's in tip-top shape, but they might just go too quick for him early on,' Curtis said yesterday. 'He's not slow over three miles, it's just that it takes him a while to warm up.'

Like his television namesake, Mister Ed has developed quite a following, not least among those who have visited Curtis's Carshalton stables, the nearest yard to central London.

'He's always sticking his tongue out to get a polo mint from people,' the trainer says. 'He's got so cute with open days down here that he just sticks his tongue out at anyone that goes past.

'He's got a lovely temperament and he's an absolute dream just to have around. If he was no good you would forgive him.'

Curtis, though, has not always dealt with such saintly animals, as a ring of scar tissue around his left thumb testifies. This is a memento of the time he got too close to Record Run, the 1975 Prince Of Wales's Stakes winner, while working at the Eastridge Park Stud in Sussex.

'Record Run had a reputation for being a savage stallion when he was with Peter Easterby and actually savaged his stud groom on the forehead,' Curtis said. 'He had a go at me and I had to have 65 stitches in a thumb. I remember we were looking around for it on the stable floor before we realised the mangled bit was actually it.

'If horses had sharp teeth he'd have just taken it, but basically he just clamped onto it and tried to rip it off like they do with grass.'

With a strong pace guaranteed today by Young Hustler and Capability Brown, who between them tugged along the Sun Alliance Chase field for much of the way at the Festival, Mister Ed will get the sort of race which should ensure him a place at double-figure odds. He may not finish quickly enough, though, to catch the likely favourite, Young Hustler (1.55).

The first televised race was won last year by Baydon Star, who is back on the card but in the different realm of novice chasing as he attempts to stretch his unbeaten run to five in the card's opener.

Highbrook will be strongly fancied to follow him onto the scroll for the Knights Royal Hurdle following her second to Land Afar at Sandown, but may not confirm form from that event with Kilcash (next best 12.50).

The richest race of the day, the Long Walk Hurdle, has attracted a competitive field including Burgoyne, Shuil Ar Aghaidh and Sweet Duke, who were second, third and eighth behind Vagog 12 months ago. The first-named has run this season as if he wished he had never become a racehorse, Shuil Ar Aghaidh is underprepared compared with last year and Sweet Duke is held by Triple Witching.

Triple Witching appears to be improving rapidly and will probably start favourite, ensuring a good price about a horse who finished just behind him at Chepstow and now reopposes on favourable terms, AVRO ANSON (nap 1.20).

(Photograph omitted)