Racing: Seabow's scope for progress offers chance of a timely reward for Sheikh Mohammed

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The Independent Online

It is 100 years since Ayr racecourse was moved to its present site, at Craigie, but it is unlikely that much has happened here in the meantime to rival the opportunity beckoning P J McDonald this afternoon.

Back in April, the Irishman came here and made all on Hot Weld in the Scottish National, getting his mount into a superb rhythm over four miles and 27 fences. Today he seeks a unique double, riding Fullandby over just six furlongs in Scotland's biggest Flat race, the Totesport Ayr Gold Cup.

McDonald has turned his attention to the Flat after deciding it was easier to lose weight than put it on, as was necessary if he was to persevere over jumps. Ferdy Murphy, Hot Weld's trainer, has assured McDonald he will never be short of work should he change his mind, or his waistline, but success on Fullandby in the Portland Handicap at Doncaster last Saturday confirmed McDonald in his chosen path.

Yesterday his increasing profile saw him nominated for one of the favourites for the Silver Cup. But Gift Horse was marooned on the far rail in that race, a consolation prize for those eliminated from the big one, as Utmost Respect landed a dauntless gamble on the near side.

Last year a similar bias in the Silver Cup prompted a dash to the stands rail, only for Fonthill Road, one of only three to stay on the far side, to make all in the Gold Cup. It is certainly possible to envisage a midfield drift by most of the runners, but it may not pay to be adamant about the draw.

Fullandby has won both his previous starts at Ayr but only scrambled home last week, and carries a penalty in what is probably a better field. But it is hard to resist the chances of the local stalwart, Orientor, becoming the first Scottish winner since 1975.

Though no longer in his prime – he has not won in 33 starts – that is certainly reflected in his handicap mark. Indeed, he only just scraped into the race, having run off 105 when a creditable ninth last year, despite suffering an injury that delayed his return to form this season. He is now down to 95 and has been showing signs of revival, hampered before finishing fast in the Portland, and 9lb better off with Fullandby for barely a length on their meeting here in July. Orientor (3.30) can be backed at 50-1.

The day's other big prize is the John Smith's Handicap at Newbury, where the flourishing Pipedreamer has obvious prospects. But Seabow (3.10, next best) can confirm the electric form of his stable, having won with more in hand than was apparent when returning from a break at Sandown last week, taking it up smoothly before idling. Lightly raced and well bred, he remains open to more improvement than most of his rivals.

Lester Piggott is honoured by the card at Newmarket, albeit in fairly low-key fashion. Channel 4 drop by for the Victor Chandler Nijinsky Handicap, where Lang Shining (3.55, nap) looks certain to progress for this extra distance.

Greed tightens grip on racing's soul

Avarice is endemic on the Turf. Bookmakers are greedy. Racecourses are greedy. Breeders are greedy. And no doubt owners would be greedy, too, given the chance.

Instead they are busy spending a fortune at the yearling sales, so that they can race their horses for a bowl of peanuts. Of course, prizemoney is only so thin because it is spread across so many fixtures. In turn, we only need so much racing – all these "opportunities" for useless horses – to nourish betting turnover, so that racing can eke out its share of bookmakers' profits.

This kind of Mephistophelian union has predictable consequences. For one thing, you risk waking up one morning with a trident in your backside, as the racing authorities discovered this week when the bookmakers opened Levy "negotiations" with a suggestion that they reduce payments from £85m to £33m.

Go into many betting shops nowadays and you will find that improvements in the cosmetic environment cannot disguise the decay at its heart. It may not be politically correct to disparage the type of punter who bets on cartoon racing, does not understand betting exchanges, cannot afford the racing channels. But everyone recognises him for what he is. A victim. And, with so much avarice around, he is very vulnerable.

Now Sheikh Mohammed has far more important things to worry about than the coverage of British racing on terrestial television. But in guaranteeing its future, as he did this week through Dubai Holding's two-year sponsorship deal with Channel 4, he has prevented a disastrous wrench on the sport's grass roots.

To keep things in perspective, Channel 4 was not exactly alone on the burning deck. There were several other suitors. And Dubai Holding can place £4m very low down a ledger that also includes a $54bn development strip in its homeland.

Yet this is just one more reminder of racing's good fortune that its biggest patron is immune to the shabby, selfish motives defining so much of its financial landscape. Channel 4 is the single most vital conduit for public interest in racing, both in terms of its existing audience and reaching fresh blood. Unlike the BBC – who are rejecting this obvious fig leaf, despite its growing embarrassment in the marketplace for live sport – Channel 4 is palpably committed to that role.

Sheikh Mohammed underwrites countless, more obviously philanthropic projects in far less trivial fields. In our parish, though, we should not take him for granted, as we often do. Who else, for instance, would bankroll the stable staff awards so lavishly? In this rapacious sport, we are obliged to those who try to keep its charms pristine. On that account, both Channel 4 and its new partner deserve a fanfare from the common man.

History puts burden on Centennial

On the face of it, Centennial made too much of a meal of two outsiders at Newbury yesterday to look a Derby colt in the making. Sure enough, Blue Square offered him at 50-1 for Epsom. Equally, you could certainly have got that kind of price after Authorized finished third last year, only the latest in an extraordinary litany of future champions – stretching all the way back to Shergar – to have announced themselves in the Hanson, Haynes and Clark Stakes. Certainly John Gosden, his trainer, has a hand of juvenile aces this year and Jimmy Fortune, on dismounting, suggested the Dalak-hani colt would come into his own over longer distances next year.

Sanders v Spencer fight hotting up

The card at Newmarket yesterday – confined to juveniles – was exactly the sort of stage where Seb Sanders was supposed to forget his lines in his duel for the jockeys' title. The idea was that Jamie Spencer's patrons would have a more fertile autumn, but Sanders won three maidens and set off for Wolverhampton four in front (144-140). Coral responded by making Sanders favourite for the first time, at 8-11, easing Spencer to evens.

Fitting memorial to a real jumping fan

The life of a great enthusiast will be celebrated at Plumpton tomorrow in the Jimmy Parsons Memorial Chase. Parsons, who lost his battle with cancer during the winter, is remembered by his many friends not just as a punter but as a man of imperishable gusto. As one of them writes in the racecard: "Whether on his way to Craven Cottage, or on the train to Plumpton, Jimmy was like a kid let off school for the day – even after years of watching Fulham disappoint, and seeing the horses he had backed fall in the lead at the last."

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