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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - North West - OTE £40k

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor