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Bensalem can score at Festival

A T last year's Cheltenham Festival, one of Bensalem's owners spent half an hour trying to set me up with a woman and another half mourning the horse's fall earlier that day.

As a backer, I felt some of his pain. Trainer Alan King took a calculated risk running what was then a novice in the William Hill Trophy (now rather unimaginatively and misleadingly called the Festival Handicap Chase). Moreover, this was a novice which had yet to run in a chase field of over five runners -- yet here he was facing 23 around Cheltenham.

That was Cheltenham with its notoriously tricky second-last fence, the one Vinny Keane will curse to this day after Latalomne exited at it when leading in the Queen Mother two years running. Rightly or wrongly, the track executive moved it last year and that is certainly no bad thing for Bensalem, which has not run over fences since he crashed out at the Festival 11 months ago.

He was tanking at the time. At least his mark has been left at 143, which remains favourable in the context of his prowess as a hurdler. After Cheltenham, he ran a blinder to finish second over hurdles at Punchestown and there was enough encouragement in his recent return at the Cotswolds venue -- behind Grand Crus -- to bolster hopes that he can win the prize that eluded him last March.

"The owners are very keen to go back to Cheltenham for the old William Hill," King said recently and presumably it was with that in mind that he skipped a possible run today at Exeter. He is 10/1 for next month's race now and will hardly be half that come the day.


Bensalem to win Festival Handicap Chase, 1pt at 10/1 (general)

IT really is the economy, stupid. This upcoming election's unusual intrigue owes that peculiarity to the shambles that the country has become. To quote Joan Burton, or at least Apres Match's caricature of her, "people are frustrated on the ground and they are angry . . . on the ground".

Fine Gael's resurgence, such as it is, seems to have come about very much by default -- a word we will be hearing more often from now on. There is undoubted scope for independents to do well in this month's poll and no independent has impressed as much as Paul Sommerville (Dublin South East).

The top two in his "15-point plan for recovery" are renegotiation of the EU/IMF deal and that bank debt is not sovereign debt. He will gain near-universal approval on the doorsteps on these key points and he has consistently illustrated an aversion to bullshit and an honest if damning appraisal of our economic predicament.

What happens to the 4,450 votes Michael McDowell got in this constituency in 2007? What will the 9,720 who voted Fianna Fáil first preference four years ago do now? What will the 4,685 who gave allegiance to John Gormley do, given that the Green vote is all but certain to collapse?

"I think 10/3 is a great price," Sommerville emailed me in the early hours of yesterday morning, adding: "I doubt you will get it." By this afternoon, he may well be right.


Paul Sommerville to get elected, 2pts at 10/3 (Ladbrokes)

NAVAN stages three Grade Twos today and Voler La Vedette can be deemed a vulnerable favourite in the Boyne Hurdle. The race is aptly-named as the course has had to absorb considerable rainfall of late, the going turning heavy.

The mare is top-rated here but it is easy to harbour severe reservations about how she will fare on the terrain over the longest trip she has tackled at perhaps the country's stiffest track. At her forecast 6/4 (if not matched, leave to lay in-running on Betfair), she can be opposed.


Lay Voler La Vedette to win at Navan, 1pt at 2.5 approx (1.5pt liability, Betfair)


Profit/loss to €10 stake: €-6.95

Still running: €145


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