Sue Montgomery: Petit ready to arrive in the big time

Inside Track: A Well Chief triumph would be a fairy tale but there are younger, fleeter legs now

There are two sides to the school of thought about the status of today's most valuable race over fences, the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot. Formerly a superior sort of handicap, it was uplifted to Grade One two years ago, the thinking being to provide an equitable stepping stone for the top two-milers between the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in early December and the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.

Which is logical enough, but which did remove from the division an opportunity to show incontrovertible greatness. Beating your peers at levels is one thing; giving good rivals lumps of weight and a beating quite another. No one would expect Chelsea to have to give a 10-goal start to Preston this afternoon, but the ability to overcome a similar disadvantage is seen as something of a sine qua non for a top horse.

Over longer distances there are well-established occasions where that can been done, witness Denman's Hennessy Gold Cup this season. Arkle's claim to immortality rests not so much on his three Gold Cup victories as his successes, narrow and wide-margin, under crushing burdens in races like the Hennessy, the Irish National and, particularly, the Gallagher Gold Cup.

The modern programme has many more top prizes on a level playing field than were afforded to the giants of the past, which can make comparisons between generations difficult, even for experts. "It's not absolutely essential for the best horses to give weight away," said the British Horseracing Authority's chief handicapper Phil Smith, "but it doesn't half go a long way to help. You can compare like with like or look at handicaps; both methods are fine, but I'd be more confident of a rating based on a handicap performance. But having said that, I've still got Kauto Star ahead of Denman. I thought he'd win the King George by 10 lengths, rather than the 30-plus he did."

In its former guise, the Victor Chandler Chase did still attract some of the best two-milers for their midwinter outing and horses such as Desert Orchid (who gave Panto Prince 22lb and a head beating in an epic battle), Waterloo Boy and Well Chief only enhanced their standing in victory, as even did Azertyuiop in narrow defeat.

Twelve months ago, though, the presence of the reigning champion Master Minded reduced what had traditionally been a spirited betting heat to an exhibition round which, while exhilarating, was not wholly to the purpose of the sponsors.

Today things are potentially a little more competitive, with the title holder still absent under an injury cloud and three Champion Chase contenders among the eight runners. One of them, Well Chief, produced one of the finest handicap performances of this or any other era when taking the race five years ago off a mark of 176 (an occasion when it was transferred to Cheltenham) and although his would be the fairy-tale victory, there are now younger, fleeter legs on the park than his gallant battered ones.

Twist Magic, Master Minded's understudy in the Paul Nicholls stable, was beaten in this race two years ago and seems more at home at Sandown than anywhere else, so the percentage call is probably the youngster on an upward curve, Petit Robin (2.40).

His trainer, Nicky Henderson, would win with the stable cat at present and introduces to the domestic scene a fascinating prospect in the two-and-a-half-mile hurdle at Ascot, Stravinsky Dance (3.10). The mare, recruited from France by the Waley-Cohen family after running third to their infinitely exciting young chaser Long Run, is considered a handicap snip by those who have seen her recent homework.

The Champion Hurdle is sharply in focus this weekend, starting at Haydock this afternoon, when another of the Seven Barrows stars, Punjabi (2.55), rejoins his road to the defence of his Cheltenham crown. The seven-year-old has just three rivals in the big-race trial and, although he must concede weight all round in testing conditions, it will be regarded as a major facer if he cannot do so.

At Leopardstown tomorrow Nicholls sends Celestial Halo, a neck behind Punjabi in March, to test the mettle of the locals in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Chief among his rivals is Charles Byrnes-trained Solwhit, who took Punjabi's scalp in May and is two from three this term, with upwardly mobile Donnas Palm, three from three, an intriguing new name. This afternoon in Co Dublin Jayo (2.30) looks poised after an eyecatching effort at Cheltenham last month and of the many plotlines in the 30-runner handicap hurdle, Moville (3.05) may be the answer.

Over fences at Haydock, Grand National hero Mon Mome will do well to prevent course specialist Cloudy Lane (3.30) from winning a second Peter Marsh Chase. The card also features the debut over fences of the talented Diamond Harry, who changes direction in mid-season after having had his hurdles aspirations blown away by Big Buck's, but on this occasion the experience of Bensalem (2.20) may prevail.

Decline in Irish figures and fillies paints dismal picture

The brilliance of Sea The Stars – bred in Ireland, raised and trained there and next month due to start his stallion career there – notwithstanding, the racing industry "across the water" is in some crisis. Figures released this week showed alarming downturns in most departments: racecourse attendances 12 per cent, for example; prize-money 12.4 per cent; sponsorship 13.8 per cent; ownership 9.5 per cent, new ownership 27 per cent.

The most dramatic drop, however, came at bloodstock auctions, largely the province of the commercial arm of thoroughbred production, where there was a 32.2 per cent fall in turnover.

And there is also a much darker statistic to consider. It is the gross discrepancy in the division of the sexes among foals born in Ireland last year. Nature is equitable over colts and fillies; no matter what the actual numbers, the split is more or less 50-50. In some years there is a weighting towards one or the other, but never by much more than a percentage point.

However, the latest annual figures produced by Weatherbys, the firm which has compiled and published the throughbred stud book for more than 200 years, show that the 5,133 colts registered by Irish breeders in 2009 represents 53.6 per cent of the population and the 4,488 fillies 46.4 per cent.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery

*Nap

Bosamcliff (3.55 Lingfield)

From a yard in top form and, after finishing strongly over 10 furlongs a week ago, will be suited by today's stiffer 12-furlong test of stamina on Polytrack, a trip over which she scored at Southwell two months ago.



*NEXT BEST

Vino Griego (4.10 Wincanton)

Suited by soft ground and produced a good effort in Graded company last time, only his second attempt over obstacles.

*ONE TO WATCH

Though Jadalee (D E Pipe) finished well behind in a two-mile novice hurdle at Southwell this week but should be seen to much better effect when asked to go a bit further.



*WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING

Ronaldo Des Mottes was the subject of support yesterday for the Totesport Trophy at Newbury in three weeks', cut two points by Paddy Power to 12-1.



*Chris McGrath's Nap

Rock A Doodle Doo (3.20 Lingfield)

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice