Sabot ready to take huge stride

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The Independent Online

The seven-furlong start at Newmarket will -briefly -be one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the country this afternoon, when 30 two-year-olds are loaded up for the conditions event at 3.05. Few, if any, will be familiar to many punters, but then this is the Tattersalls Houghton Sales Stakes, and most of the normal rules of racing will be suspended for its duration.

Such are the idiosyncrasies of this contest that it is arguably the most interesting on today's card, the opening day of the Cambridgeshire meeting, even with the Group One Cheveley Park Stakes bringing together two leading fancies for next year's 1,000 Guineas, Blue Duster and Najiya, and the fast-improving My Branch.

The range of talent in the Houghton Sales Stakes, by contrast, is rather wider, in fact there may be no other race in the calendar which brings together such an assortment of the good, the bad and the thoroughly hopeless. Last year's winner was the very able Don Corleone, while Pentire, one of this year's best three-year-olds, was down among the also-rans. Most of the remainder, though, would struggle to make a paragraph in the history books between them.

The reason for these quirks, as if you hadn't guessed, is money. All but a handful of today's runners are graduates of last year's Houghton Sale, and thus eligible for some of the extravagant bonuses lurking behind the apparent prize-money of pounds 25,000. The incentive scheme extends well down the field, so the old problem of jockeys failing to ride out for a place will not apply (instead, expect to see blood-and-guts struggles for 11th and 12th).

Perhaps the most interesting of this event's many eccentricities is that, for a 30-runner race, it is far from impossible to solve. The short-list extends no further than five runners, with Rio Duvida, second to Alhaarth at Doncaster recently, Peter Chapple-Hyam's Ski Academy and His Excellence, from the Irish yard of Aidan "the new Vincent" O'Brien likely to attract strong support.

At the anticipated odds, though, Barry Hills's Sabot (next best 3.05) must be worth an interest. Though still a maiden, he is a progressive colt, was second in a fast time on his latest outing, and represents a stable with considerable strength among its juveniles this year.

Indeed, another rapidly improving member of the same team may surprise the highly-rated Blue Duster and Najiya in the Cheveley Park. In general, Hills does not approve of the supplementary-entry system, but he set his objections aside to get MY BRANCH (nap 3.40) into today's race, and hints like that can never be ignored. With Seckar Vale in the 12-furlong handicap, it could be a exceptional day for the trainer, but Persian Elite (2.30) looks a better bet, while Baltic Dream (4.15), who has had a short rest, can return to form in the nursery.

There were 64 entries at yesterday's five-day stage for the Cambridgeshire itself, at Newmarket on Saturday, including the 10-year-old Rambo's Hall, who will not only be attempting to win the race for the third time in six years, but has also been well-supported to do so. Ladbrokes cut the gelding from 12-1 to 9-1 yesterday to add to his victories in 1989 and 1992. "Rambo's Hall is fine," Jeremy Glover, his trainer, said yesterday. "There has been some rain and a lot more is forecast, and the more the better. It rained late on for his other wins, and it seems to slow the fancied horses down, while he goes straight through it."

Rambo's Hall has had injury problems throughout his career, and his build- up to this year's race has again been far from trouble-free. Were he to win on Saturday, the other trophies on Glover's mantlepiece will probably start drinking milk.