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Sir Punjabi should lord it over rivals on chase debut.

Byline: BEN HUTTON

A GOVERNMENT-backed report has recommended that in order to tackle the threat of corruption in sport from betting, Britain should set up a Sports Betting Intelligence Unit - and it can't come soon enough judging by another story to have emerged yesterday.

The Times website ran the headline 'Prince Harry earns pounds 30,000 falling off a pony', but before the SBIU gets too excited and tries to arrange a Memorandum of Understanding between Betfair and the Barbados Polo Club, it should be pointed out that the third in line to the throne was actually offered pounds 30,000 for charity if he stayed on the pony, but the generous businessman decided to cough up anyway.

Hopefully, the layers will be equally charitable about the odds of Sir Punjabi as he makes his chase debut in the 3.20 at Folkestone.

The tactic of sending hurdlers straight into handicap company over fences is an admirable one, and not just because it is likely that they will be taking on more exposed rivals, meaning they therefore have a better chance of winning.

There is also less scope for jumping carnage among the experienced opposition in handicaps than in novice chases and it takes away the worry that a solid performance behind a classy rival in a level-weights contest will result in an unwelcome hike in the ratings without the horse first being rewarded with a win or two.

Sir Punjabi can't have been the easiest to train because the eight-yearold has raced just four times in his career, which started in September, and he was very keen on his first three outings.

However, it is to trainer Lucy Wadham's credit that he settled much better last time on his handicap hurdle debut over an extended 2m5f at Huntingdon, and the way he shaped suggests he is capable of winning a contest such as this.

It was his first start on ground slower than good, and he obviously relished the soft surface as he posted his best performance by some way to finish third of 13.

Similar going is likely to prevail this afternoon, and the step up to 3m1f should also be very much in his favour, as he was under pressure a lot sooner than the three other main protagonists at Huntingdon and was staying on strongly in the straight.

His jumping was notably poor, which on the one hand suggests he could have won if he had been more fluent over his hurdles, but this is a major concern on his debut over fences.

Bad leapers over hurdles don't necessarily make bad leapers over fences, however, so his Huntingdon display should not be held too much against him.

What he does have in his favour is an unexposed profile, which his rivals don't possess, and he should prefer the longer distance.

Even though there are quite a few 1s, 2s and 3s next to the contenders' names in the 4.20 at Folkestone, the substance of the form does not seem to match up to these figures and the extended 2m1f handicap hurdle is unlikely to take much winning.

Letham Island and Henry Hook are out of form; Princess Flame, Epee Celeste and Spider Boy look distinctly beatable, and while Romney Marsh impressed when scoring at Uttoxeter in December, a 12lb rise in the weights scuppered her next time, and a subsequent 3lb drop back down isn't enough to make her an attractive proposition today.

Near The Water went up 10lb for winning a Plumpton handicap that has worked out well at the beginning of last month, and the six-year-old showed that his new mark wasn't totally beyond him when a solid runner-up to a progressive type in Lord Singer eight days ago.

He retains the same rating today, and with Princess Flame, Romney Marsh and Spider Boy set to ensure there is a decent gallop off which he can challenge, this proven course performer has especially solid claims. A reproduction of his recent efforts should make him difficult to beat.

Today's bets Sir Punjabi 3.20 Folkestone 1pt win Near The Water 4.20 Folkestone 1pt win
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 2, 2010
Words:691
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