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Trading Bureau: Take on Halexy in classy event.

Byline: Nick Fox

KATARINO came back from a wind operation to win impressively first time out last season, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he again made a successful return after a setback in the Unicoin New Homes Chase Showcase Handicap (2.50) at Cheltenham today.

Although the times were slow yesterday, the ground didn't look nearly so bad as some of us had anticipated. However, with more rain forecast, it will be surprising if it doesn't look and ride very slow today.

That shouldn't bother Katarino, who is coming back after a leg injury. After his win at Newbury little more than a year ago, trainer Nicky Henderson fancied him strongly for the Feltham at Kempton, but the ground was too quick for him and, although not beaten far, he could finish only third to Maximize and Innox (who he had beaten easily the first time).

The really bad news was that he returned home with a leg injury, which brought a premature end to his campaign.

Ladbrokes, who don't make many mistakes, are the biggest at this morning's prices, but that shouldn't put us off, particularly as Halexy is worth taking on.

There is no doubt that Venetia Williams has brought about a lot of improvement in this gelding, who was a good winner here when last seen out in November. However, that was not a strong race for Cheltenham and he has gone up another 7lb for today's stronger event.

When you consider that Katarino won the Triumph Hurdle in 1999 and ran creditably in the Champion Hurdle the following year, and that another of today's runners, Blowing Wind, won last year's Mildmay of Flete, there is

clearly a big gap in class for Halexy to bridge.

If he is in the same sort of form as he was at the Festival, Blowing Wind is going to be tough to beat. Of course, he also ran well when third in the Grand National, despite predictably being outstayed.

He doesn't have a good record fresh, so there is probably no reason to be worried by his disappointing reappearance this season when a distant third to Ardent Scout in the Becher Chase. He looks at least as dangerous as the favourite to Katarino, yet is at bigger odds.

The way Historg won yesterday confirmed that Ferdy Murphy's stable is going a lot better now than earlier in the season, so Ballinclay King should also be considered.

He ran his best race in a long time when third to Horus in a valuable handicap here last month, shaping as though the near three-and-a-quarter-mile trip there was plenty far enough.

On better ground I'd have no intention of putting up Westender as a bet for the George Stevens Handicap Hurdle (3.20).

Runner-up to Like-A-Butterfly in the Supreme at Cheltenham, and to In Contrast in the Martell Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree, Westender under normal conditions would look a good thing to give the weight away today. The ground is a big worry though, not only for Westender, but because of the way it can close the gaps between class. No bet has to be the advice.

There is a very interesting sprint at Southwell, the pounds 10,000 Littlewoods Bet Direct Handicap (1.35).

I was worried about putting Piccled up for a race over course and distance last month because of the thought that this race was the big target, but he won well and looks sure to put up another good show.

Interestingly, the one who could be a big threat on my figures is Juwwi, who has won and finished second in previous runnings of this race, but who comes here after an eight-month absence.


Katarino (nap)

2.50 Cheltenham

1pt win at 9-2 with Hills,


Spreads and betting


(on a scale of 1-10)

No bet
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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