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If this was supposed to be the preliminary sketch for an Epsom masterpiece, then for now Liber Nauticus remains closer to an oil tanker than a dashing ocean clipper. Nonetheless she finds herself disputing favouritism for the Investec Oaks, bookmakers having taken an indulgent view of the heavy weather she made of her trial here.
As the new season gathers pace next week with a series of Classic trials, Chris McGrath picks 10 to watch
Having anticipated last week for so long, some Cheltenham diehards will be appalled to discover that a new Flat season opens at Doncaster on Friday. Others, however, will recognise that so rich a banquet can only really be followed by a total change of taste – even if Town Moor is set to provide conditions better suited to steeplechasing.
This could prove one of those occasions when there is no point complicating matters. Long Run, beaten only by the record-breaking Kauto Star in three Boxing Day starts over the course, is much the most likely winner of the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton tomorrow. And while the retirement of Kauto Star, who won the race for a fifth time last year, suggests the time is ripe for a changing of the guard, it is surely premature to make too much of the anomaly that Long Run – in approaching only his eighth birthday – increasingly represents the old order.
For those dispirited by the way so many big jump races are nowadays carved up between the same few stables, here was a look back to the future. Lest we forget, Kim Bailey himself once won the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle at the same Festival, with Master Oats and Alderbrook respectively in 1995, and until this year he remained unique among current trainers in having also won a Grand National. Even in his pomp, however, he never pretended to invulnerability – and the engaging human qualities that leavened his undoubted hunger have been sadly missed from the elite scene for more than a decade.
It is no trite ambition, seeing such good horses venture onto such awful ground, to ask only that the likes of Long Run and Finian’s Rainbow complete their comebacks tomorrow in one piece.
Anticipation of this meeting is largely rooted in hindsight. Year after year it proves a major crossroads, especially in the career of a young horse, on the road back to the Festival.
With their first domestic titles wrapped up, the opening skirmishes of the 29th Breeders' Cup tonight provide the opportunity for John Gosden and Richard Hughes to amplify their new status as respectively champion trainer and jockey-elect.
Even by his own perverse standards, Luke Haines's album about wrestling seems obscure. But his interest is sincere, not ironic, he tells James McNair
The unrest seen in London continued to spread to the rest of England last night, as a police station in Nottingham was firebombed by youths.
Wolverhampton's finest revisits some favourite home-grown soul from her youth, making a strong case for her argument that this genre always gets overlooked when the media gets nostalgic about the 1980s and 1990s.
'I knew her as a singer who lived locally and I saw her in our local store when I was 10'
Kauto Star may be an irresistible force, but a deep layer of snow certainly represented a fairly immovable object at the beginning of a week that is supposed to end with his historic quest for a fifth consecutive success in the William Hill King George VI Chase. Barney Clifford, clerk of the course at Kempton, had to cancel the Flat meeting scheduled for his all-weather circuit yesterday, and four inches of snow are lying over the frost blankets on the adjacent jumps track. Even so, he was not sounding too downbeat at this stage, pinning his hopes on forecasts of somewhat milder weather in time for Boxing Day.
With the weather closing in again – today's meetings at both Ascot and Uttoxeter are subject of morning inspections and weekend prospects are not good – jump trainers are grabbing opportunities while they are there. Yesterday, a soggy afternoon at Exeter drew an eye-catching collection of young chasers needing miles under their hooves en route to greater targets at Cheltenham in March.
Emerging hurdling talent Peddlers Cross, who took the scalp of Binocular on Saturday on his first venture into the senior ranks, is unlikely to cross swords with the reigning king again until the Champion Hurdle. The new kid on the block will skip the next date on the top-level domestic two-mile circuit, next month's Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, in favour of the Grade Two trial at Haydock in January.
Chris McGrath picks 10 to follow as the jumps season starts heating up