There are just 10 fewer numbers in the tombola, but the clear lesson of recent history before today's Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket is that it is anything but a lottery. The field for the first leg of the autumn double has dropped below 30 only once in the last five years, yet the winners have been returned at 9-2, 7-1 twice, 8-1 and 10-1, and smart backers will concentrate on the big race at Headquarters and leave Anthea to her balls.
The shortest-priced of those last five winners was Rambo's Hall, who won his second Cambridgeshire in 1992 at the age of seven. Astonishingly, he will be trying to become the first horse to win three in today's renewal, and more remarkable still, he may again start favourite. Available at long odds a few weeks ago, Rambo's Hall has contracted sharply over the last fortnight, just as he did before his success three years ago, somewhat to the surprise of Jeremy Glover, his trainer.
"I'm very surprised to find him favourite," Glover said yesterday. "His preparation hasn't been as good as it has in previous years, and I would have liked to get another run into him but the ground hasn't been right. But he's well in himself and he was very fresh when we put him out in the paddock this morning. If we get some rain I'm sure he'll run a big race, but whether he'll be good enough to win is another matter. I can assure you that none of the money going on him is mine," the trainer added.
Glover has an exceptional record in the Cambridgeshire, with his four runners producing three wins and a third, but in view of his doubts about Rambo's Hall's chance today, the veteran is hardly value. Naked Welcome is also difficult to fancy at slim odds, even though Martin Fetherston- Godley, his trainer, has a considerable incentive to succeed. A big-priced double running on from Royale Figurine's victory in the Ayr Gold Cup would net him pounds 30,000, but Naked Welcome's most recent run implied that nine furlongs will be a little short for him.
The search need go no further, though, than the third name in many ante- post lists, Sue's Artiste (next best 3.35). She returned from a six-week absence to win a 25-runner race at Doncaster, and while Barry Hills has profited from an excellent crop of juveniles this season, he is more than capable of taking a major handicap.
It could be a big afternoon for Hills, with Further Flight attempting to win the Group Three Jockey Club Cup for the fifth year in succession. A major difference between the grey and his fellow veteran, Rambo's Hall, though, is that Further Flight has a great deal more mileage on his clock, and DOUBLE ECLIPSE (nap 4.10), whose brother, Double Trigger, runs in today's Prix du Cadran at Longchamp, can strike for the Classic generation.