Rivals to toil in great Lake's wake

Racing: Greg Wood on a colt whose superior speed means he is unbackable today
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The Independent Online
It is fortunate for the connections of Lake Coniston that horses do not feel the burden of a seven-figure price tag in the way that some footballers seem to do. The Coolmore Stud paid pounds 2m to secure the services of Geoff Lewis's colt when his current campaign is over and he will go to post for today's Sprint Cup at Haydock as one of the strongest favourites in the history of the race. Should he fail to oblige, punters will not be the only ones nursing singed fingers.

Coolmore, though, did not become one of Europe's most respected breeding establishments by backing losers, and the prospects of defeat for Lake Coniston this afternoon are as remote as his cramped odds imply.

When faced with such a firm favourite, smart punters look for a good- value bet further down the list, but such is Lake Coniston's apparent superiority over today's rivals that none makes any appeal. With just seven runners, meanwhile, each-way betting will prove equally fruitless, and there seems no reason why Lake Coniston should not equal, or perhaps even improve upon, his exceptional four-length success in the July Cup at Newmarket. If so, Coolmore's pounds 2m will have been very well spent.

According to the bookmakers, So Factual offers the most serious challenge to the favourite, but despite his success in the Nunthorpe Stakes, and even his defeat of Lake Coniston at Royal Ascot, the Godolphin runner's credentials are deeply flawed. Lake Coniston drifted alarmingly in the final furlong at Ascot and still emerged as the best horse at the weights, and at Newmarket a few weeks later, under conditions much more similar to today's, So Factual was trounced.

So Factual may even be missing from today's field in the event of overnight rain at Haydock. A similar concern applies to Owington, but one definite runner is John Hammond's filly Cherokee Rose. She attracted interest at 8-1 earlier this week, though on the basis of her recent short-head defeat of Young Ern, albeit in a Group One contest, it is difficult to understand why. Hammond took the Sprint Cup back to France four years ago with Polar Falcon, but Lake Coniston is surely in a different class today. Though he is impossible to either back or oppose, punters should console themselves with the thought that if, as expected, he ends his career in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, his odds will be much more enticing.

There are stronger bets in the Haydock handicaps. Cash Asmussen may be an ideal partner for Khamseh (next best 2.00), whose challenge needs to be judged to the second, while the presence of Lanfranco Dettori on Wishing (2.30), rather than Inquisitor, who represents his retaining stable, implies that Reg Akehurst fancies his chance.

Akehurst also saddles an interesting runner in the September Stakes at Kempton. Wayne County, by Sadler's Wells out of the Arc winner Detroit and thus a full-brother to Carnegie, last year's Arc winner, had spent two seasons showing occasional glimpses of form for a succession of trainers before arriving at Akehurst's yard. On his next outing, a switch to front- running tactics brought success at 14-1 in a useful conditions event, and his place in today's Group Three race is thoroughly justified.

With Midnight Legend also in the line-up, however, Wayne Country may struggle to dominate, and a fast pace could set the race up for DESERT SHOT (nap 3.40), who flourished under similar circumstances at Windsor a week ago. Norsong (3.10) may offer Akehurst a little compensation.

The best race of the weekend is at Longchamp tomorrow, where the majority of Europe's best milers will contest the Prix du Moulin. After a summer break and against such stern opposition, John Oxx's Ridgewood Pearl faces the most demanding task of her life, but the quality and authority of her success in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot suggest that she is up to it.

n Bin Ajwaad, whose career has been plagued by injury, scored a decisive victory from Realities at Kempton yesterday.