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The Festival - Betting Bureau: Adamant to thwart hotpot at huge 14-1.

Byline: Nick Fox

The obvious question facing backers in the opening Gerrard Supreme Novices' Hurdle (2.00) at Cheltenham today is whether to take on the horse that many of the Irish regard as the banker of the meeting. The one chink in Like-A-Butterfly's armour could be the ground, which is likely to be significantly quicker than that she has encountered in running up a perfect sequence of seven wins from seven outings.

If you do intend to oppose the favourite-and at a top-priced 5-2, there is a big incentive to-the one worth most attention is Adamant Approach, whose victory in the Pierse Hurdle at Leopardstown on ground that was softer than ideal proved he is the type of horse able to hold his own in competitive big-field races.

His form isn't far off what is needed either and, although he was 11 lengths behind Like-A-Butterfly at Leopardstown last time, the very testing ground would not have suited on that occasion.

Just as importantly, he is available at 14-1 this morning, which looks a decent price in a race that has historically been good for the lesser-fancied Irish runners.

With her excellent course record, Royale de Vassy is worth considering for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (4.30).

Twice a winner and once second in four races at the course, the mare will have to shoulder 12st in this amateur riders' race rather than carry less weight in the William Hill Handicap Chase, a race in which she also held an entry.

The good news is that many of her 23 opponents look a long way off the class she showed when winning a valuable handicap here in December from quality rivals led by Royal Predica and Frenchman's Creek. Those two have chances in the preceding race and a good run from either would be a strong advert for Royale de Vassy's prospects in this lesser event.

Many of her rivals have been running well in far lower grade and do not look good enough even in a race that has traditionally favoured low weights. There are others who have to be treated with caution on the grounds of doubtful stamina.

One who won't fail on that score, though, is the Martin Pipe-trained Nocksky, and he has to be respected even though he hasn't been seen on a racecourse since the summer of 1999. He is potentially very well weighted on old hurdles form and his trainer is certain to have him fit and well. He is dangerous enough to warrant a saver.

The feature of the late betting on the Smurfit Champion Hurdle (3.15) is the weakness in the market of Istabraq, whose chance of a four-timer looks to have been written off by the big-hitters.

Valiramix has deposed the champion at the head of the betting, but now looks plenty short enough himself at a top-priced 9-4.

The best value left in the race looks to rest with either the 3-1 Landing Light or the 12-1 offered against former Supreme Novices' winner Hors La Loi III, who looked near enough his old self when winning at Wincanton recently in a fast time.

As good as Barton was over hurdles, I'd be worried about backing him for the Irish Independent Arkle Chase (2.35). That is only because he has been taking on largely second-rate opponents over fences, as illustrated by the fact he has been long odds-on for all five starts.

This represents the biggest test of his ability over fences over a trip that is plenty sharp enough for him, and Seebald's rather more rigorous preparation against better-grade opposition has to make him a safer choice. He certainly looked to have Fondmort's measure when that rival lost all chance when slipping badly at the second-last in a race here back in November.

The big danger to the Pipe-trained favourite may come from Moscow Flyer, even though that rival has a couple of falls against his name since switched to fences. His jumping has generally looked good, and if he gets round without mishap he will be a serious threat to all.

The problem with the concluding Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final (5.05) is trying to decide which of those horses with big claims on what they have shown over shorter distances will truly last the extended three miles and a

furlong.

The Irish gamble Calladine is one who has shown form over three miles-not surprising, as he is a strong stayer on the Flat. There is plenty of confidence behind his chance judged by the way the betting has been going and it's tough to oppose him just in the hope that the likes of Surprising, Ideal du Bois Beury or Iris Royal will get home.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 12, 2002
Words:792
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