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Trading Bureau: Maraud set for return to peak form.

Byline: Nick Fox

MARAUD found ground conditions too soft for him at Sedgefield last time and ought to return to top form in the Tote betXpress Handicap Hurdle (3.00) at Catterick today.

Although the ground was officially soft at Sedgefield, the times throughout the card suggest that heavy would have been a better description and, in the circumstances, Maraud didn't run at all badly to finish fourth in what was a fair handicap.

It was over today's course and distance on his previous start that he registered his best performance since 1998, winning a strongly run, reasonably competitive handicap from one of the favourites in Yankee Jamie. The pair finished comfortably clear of the others.

Yankee Jamie has run twice and won twice in fair style since, most recently off a 5lb higher mark than when he met Maraud. Today Maraud also races off a 5lb higher rating.

Of the forecast market leaders, Snowmore certainly has to be respected even though he is unproven over this sort of distance. His recent races have been at around two and a half miles and the furthest he has gone is two miles and five and a half furlongs, over which he won twice in the autumn.

Ocean Tide also deserves to be at the head of the market on earlier form, if not his last-time second to Family Venture at Musselburgh which, although it looks good enough on paper, was a dubious race in which the pace took an age to pick up.

With both jumps meetings subject to inspections it would have been nice to have gone with something on the

all-weather at Wolverhampton, but it's a tough card and nothing really jumps out as likely value.

The Littlewoods Bet Direct Conditions Stakes (1.40) is the best race, and one in which you certainly couldn't rule out another win for the remarkable Flying Treaty, who is trying to make it seven wins from his last nine runs.

The only reason that the market may overreact to his chance is that his career-best performance was his most recent, a victory in a 16-runner handicap over seven furlongs at Southwell.

He won twice over today's course and distance in December, but the form he showed then was a long way below what he did last time. He has undoubtedly improved a lot in recent races, but there must still be a worry that track and distance have played a part too.

Diamond Max, high-class on turf and winner of a Listed race in Paris as a three-year-old, was second in a valuable Lincoln trial run over this course and distance in March last year.

However, he seemed to have no excuse when a well-beaten third to Flying Treaty at Southwell three weeks ago and, judged on that, isn't in good enough form at present.

Middleton Grey is back up in distance after running well over six and seven furlongs this year and, although he has gone well over course and distance in the past, I'm not convinced that the move will be in his favour.

There are two dark horses in the race. Sahaat had some high-class form in France but didn't show much on his first run for Jamie Osborne behind Kirovski at Lingfield. More interesting is Westbound Road, who bolted up in a maiden here on his last start - almost two years ago.

After all this, the most likely winner, for my money, is Oscar Pepper, beaten a short head by Flying Treaty the time before last over Southwell's mile and narrowly beaten by Kepler over this course and distance in November. His saddle slipped last time.

TODAY'S ADVICE

Maraud (nap)

3.00 Catterick

1pt win

Spreads and betting

exchanges

(on a scale of 1-10)

No bet

Spread, betting exchange and fixed odds

staking plans are not related and should be treated as independent accounts. Spread

betting carries a high degree of risk and is not suitable for all

Palarshan is a possible, but no lay today

Opportunities for laying short-priced favourites are few and far between today, and although plenty will want to get Palarshan (2.50 Hereford), it seems only an accident can stop him. After a narrow escape with Bank On Him yesterday, the recommendation is no bet.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 31, 2003
Words:712
Previous Article:Five for fun.
Next Article:View from the training centres: The North.


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