Chabal's time to shine
WITH Cheltenham falling to the rain and forcing Channel 4's new-look racing team to decamp to Scotland, many Irish eyes will be focused on lowly Fakenham today.
The tight-turning east of England track is hardly what connections had in mind for Chabal when the former Classic contender started out his juvenile career for Jim Bolger.
Great things were expected of Chabal after he was bought out of Bolger's yard – from where he had followed up a debut maiden victory with two outings in Group One company, one of which yielded a runner-up berth.
Godolphin saw him as a Classic contender and his career with Sheikh Mohammed's stable started full of promise as he was first past the post in Sandown's derby trial, only to be disqualified after returning a positive drugs test. However, the son of Galileo flopped in the Dante behind Cape Blanco and he had only one other outing before he was recruited by John Ferguson and promptly gelded.
The trainer has done extremely well with his Darley cast-offs so far and if Denis O'Regan's mount can transfer just a fraction of his Flat form to hurdles, he could be a useful tool although he faces stiff opposition here from The Tiger, a decent Flat performer which is Ed Dunlop's first runner over jumps.
While the high-profile meeting at Cheltenham has been abandoned due to a waterlogged track, armchair punters will still be able to tune into live action from Musselburgh.
That will give viewers the first chance to gauge the new presentation team headed by Clare Balding as Channel 4 will be the only British terrestrial channel providing live coverage after BBC pulled out.
She will now be at Nicky Henderson's stable in Lambourn to help fill in the programme. Balding, who was an integral part of the old BBC team, became a familiar figure with Britain's general viewing public during the Olympics and Paralympics.
"I can't wait to get started on presenting racing for Channel 4," she said. "Channel 4 has assembled a fabulous team and I'm thrilled to be a part of it."
The Scottish venue hosts some decent action to blast away the New Year's Day hangover, with Swing Bowler possibly the most eyecatching runner on the card. Winner of two bumpers and two novice hurdles for David Pipe last term, she is a daughter of the fantastic racemare Lady Cricket and Galileo.
Conor O'Farrell's mount has inherited plenty of ability from both and is one which could prove a bit better than her rating this term.
Down in Exeter, Victor Dartnall is looking forward to giving Ambion Wood his first run over fences.
The Devon trainer describes Ambion Wood as a "natural" over the bigger obstacles as he faces seven rivals over two miles, three-and-a-half furlongs. The Oscar gelding was a useful staying novice over hurdles last term, winning three times including a Grade Three handicap at Sandown.
Dartnall had to delay Ambion Wood's fencing debut after he was forced to close his stables for several weeks due to an outbreak of equine herpes in November. He had his first runners since then at the weekend, but is still seeking a comeback winner.
"He's schooled very well, he seems a natural and we're very happy with him," said the trainer. "He seems very well so we'll see how we go."
At Uttoxeter yesterday, Brendan Powell celebrated his 500th success as a trainer when Award Winner did the business under Tony McCoy who was completing a double for JP McManus.
Powell, who won the Grand National on Rhyme 'n' Reason in 1988, said: "I've been training for 12 years and we average around 45 to 50 winners a year.
"When you've got a yard with 35 to 40 horses, as long as we can keep it going we'll be happy. That was my 25th winner for JP (McManus) as well, so that was nice. AP (McCoy) has been good to me over the years."
McCoy scored earlier in the same colours on Shutthefrontdoor which galloped away with the opening maiden hurdle – easing 16 lengths clear of favourite Key To The West.
Will Kennedy is a jockey who does well from limited resources and the Kildare man's talents were seen to good effect aboard Salut Honore which coasted to victory in the staying handicap chase for trainer Alex Hales.