CELTIC MILL has carried the flag for David Barker's small stable with distinction over the past 12 months, winning no less than seven races.

Barker trains within a stone's throw of Catterick racecourse, but as there is no flat racing on turf at this time of year he travels to Wolverhampton with his stable-star in an attempt to follow up their fibresand success at the track 18 days ago.

The six-year-old speedster was surprisingly raised only 4lb for that victory, hardly enough to put the anchors on him, especially as the gelding seems sure to strip a pound or two fitter for the outing following his winter break.

Another sound reason for backing Celtic Mill (4.05) lies with his blistering early pace, which invariably gets him clear of the unpleasant effects of having to face the kickback, the principal cause for the downfall of many a fancied horse at the Midlands venue.

Perhaps the greatest danger to the nap selection in the six-furlong £15,000 Littlewoods Bet Direct Handicap will emerge from the 2003 Ayr Gold Cup hero, Quito.

Davids Chapman's raider doesn't know how to run a bad race, but he might have to settle for second best by virtue of being required to concede lumps of weight to Barker's in-form sprinter.

Venetia Williams has set her followers a ticklish problem by running both Researcher (3.15) and Pougatcheva in the Mares' Only Novices' Handicap Hurdle at Kempton.

The improving duo won their respective races last time out, Pougatcheva a clear-cut four length scorer in an amateur riders' event at Hereford, while Researcher edged out Scratch The Dove in a battle royal at Exeter.

But for giving the second last flight an almighty clout, Researcher probably would have recorded a far more emphatic win and for that reason, plus the presence of the simply superb young jockey Sam Thomas in the saddle, she just gets the nod over her stable-companion.

The popular grey Tom Costalot (3.50) appears to be approaching concert pitch and is quite likely to attract serious market support in the Betfair.com Chase.

Trainer Susan Nock has been patiently waiting for a reasonably fast surface, which has taken time to materialise after the recent wet spell. Thankfully her prayers have now been answered and in the hands of the talented Anthony Evans, who takes a handy 3lb off Tom Costalot's back, the pair should not be overlooked in the two-and-a-half mile affair.

* AS predicted Mulligatawny served up a tasty treat by landing an 8-1 winning nap for followers of Janus (Colin Woods) at Huntingdon.

* Conditions at Newbury for tomorrow's £125,000 Tote Gold Trophy are expected to be perfect following a few dry days that have persuaded officials at the Berkshire track to water the course. The going is expected to be good.

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