Chris McGrath: Be wary of bankers but Mohaison is tough enough for testing times

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The Independent Online

Allowing for its own, peculiar flaws, the Great Leighs shutdown is very much a parable for our times. As things have turned out, the new racecourse was very much built "on tick" – typical of those projects that bubbled away, among the seething lava of debt, until finally bursting through the thin crust of the economy.

Sooner or later, Great Leighs will be salvaged for racing by investors with appropriate resources and expertise. For those plucky enough to treat the present, hysterical tsunami as merely another tide in the familiar cycles of boom and bust, Great Leighs doubtless represents a lucrative beachcombing opportunity.

By definition, the culture of debt is essentially evasive. But it was always there, in the modern corporate vernacular. When the lights came on, all sorts of people were found with their trousers round their ankles, raping the economy. And yet their fraudulence was long obvious in the way they traduce the English language.

The manager of one top racetrack, addressing the press, recently distilled his ambitions as "delivering the racecourse going forward". His words, palpably, were entirely devoid of meaning. Yet that is how businessmen (and politicians) nowadays think it clever to express themselves. When you see a lorry proudly bearing the words "passionate about delivering the best laundry solutions", you do not know whether to laugh or cry.

Racehorses would never be so unworthy. They routinely give rise to false hope, of course, but at least they are not themselves false, or deceptive. Cheltenham does not have to tempt people to the races this afternoon by disguising avarice as "passion". Could there be any greater ardour, any more honest endeavour, than the steeplechaser and his rider, toughing it out together over mud and ditches?

Unfortunately, there remains the small matter of "solutions". In its corrupted form, this word has been stripped of all meaning. "Laundry solutions" means no more or less than "laundry". But "race solutions" are another matter, and effective ones could sweeten these hard times.

The most significant puzzle of the day is the Letheby & Christopher Chase, albeit the absence of Barbers Shop and others, discouraged by the deep ground, makes for rather less solid a platform to take on Denman and Kauto Star back here in March.

As it happens, the most likely winner is housed in the same stable as the past two Gold Cup winners. Star De Mohaison (2.35) produced a top-class handicap performance here last month, failing by only half a length to concede 18lb to Mon Mome, the pair miles clear. He has had his problems since winning his novice championship at the Festival, but this performance suggested not only that he retains elite quality, but also that he is comfortable on testing ground.

The going will definitely suit the doughty Halcon Genelardais, who will no doubt be rallying up the hill. He certainly deserves to win a first race in two years, but disappointed in his one previous crack at this one and a smaller field and shorter trip will again not play to his strengths.

It seems significant that Barry Geraghty keeps the ride on Star De Mohaison, the obvious implication being that the Gold Cup remains very much on the agenda. For Ruby Walsh, the stable jockey, will clearly be riding Kauto Star or Denman at the Festival.

Geraghty teams up with his usual employer, Nicky Henderson, for perhaps the star turn on the card. Punchestowns (3.45) looks the obvious heir to Inglis Drever, who was retired this week, though you might want to be wary of very short odds. He has so much speed that a gruelling test in the Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle, against rather better rivals than those he has outclassed this season, might not prove a cakewalk.

Henderson and Geraghty are represented in the Wragge & Co Juvenile Hurdle by Higgy's Boy, but they probably have a better one at home in Zaynar – who was receiving 7lb when beating Walkon (3.10) on his debut at Newbury. Walkon has since beaten a similar field at Chepstow, and can confirm the form with Reve De Sivola despite a penalty.

The other live race is the BetChronicle Handicap Chase. Stan remains a feasible contender off his revised mark, but likewise Akilak (2.05), who seems to be blossoming at last, judged on an impressive exhibition at Newcastle last time.

Channel 4 also has cameras at Doncaster, where On Raglan Road (2.50) should relish the return to a longer trip in the Albert Bartlett River Don Hurdle.

The big prize at Town Moor is the Skybet Handicap Chase, where the absence of Noir Et Vert due to a mass withdrawal by Ferdy Murphy of his runners, leaves the way open for ALEXANDERTHEGREAT (nap 3.25), who travelled strongly at Cheltenham last time and has made only four starts for his thriving stable.

All in all, these horses look passionate about delivering the best race solutions. So much so, that I think I'll ask my bank manager for a loan.

Muirhead can give sharp answer to Brave Inca backers

Sometimes money doesn't just talk, it marches up, grabs your lapels and sprays spittle as it bellows in your face. Such, according to the bookmakers, is the situation in the Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown tomorrow, where Brave Inca has been backed from 8-1 a week ago to as short as 13-8 last night.

The former champion was readily outpaced by Sublimity over course and distance at the Christmas meeting, but conditions will be much more demanding this time. Mud not only suits Brave Inca, but also blunts Sublimity's acceleration, so you can see the logic. But the evaporation of the odds means that the best value now could instead rest with Muirhead (2.50).

He left himself too much to do when taking time to settle at Christmas, but finished strongly for fourth. Having won a Grade One novice hurdle on heavy last winter, he can improve past the elderly favourite.

In the Arkle Challenge Cup, Follow The Plan also excelled here at Christmas, shading the top British novice at two miles in Tatenen, but Jayo (1.50) seemed to improve dramatically at Naas last time.

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