Middleham trainer Patrick Haslam is always a man to be feared once his horses shift into top gear.

Haslam's Middleham stable has been relatively sleepy over the past couple of months, but he's a had a couple of two-year-old winners in the last few days suggesting the whole yard could be about to catch fire.

If that is to be the case the appropriately named Flambe (2.10) has the ability to keep Haslam on a roll at Haydock today in the opening Calendonia Blackburn Handicap.

The selection appears to act on most types of surface so the good ground conditions should be perfect for the four-year-old in the one -mile contest.

Of more concern is Flambe's wide draw in stall 17, a factor which could still be negated if the jockeys opt to switch centre field or even stands' side once they turn for home.

The top-weight, Affray (3.40), might be the answer to the later mile-and-six-furlong Warrington Handicap.

He stayed on strongly when third over a mile-and-a-half to Hugs Dancer in the Cumberland Plate at Carlisle a week ago.

It was a race run at an honest pace throughout and a sheer lack of finishing kick proved to be Affray's undoing at the end.

Now set to travel an extra two furlongs, the three-year-old's long suit of stamina is bound to be brought much more into play.

Affray's trainer, Mark Johnston, should also be on the mark a little further down the M6 at Chepstow via Rajab (4.00) and Decoy (4.30).

Decoy, a tall and attractive filly, is unproven on what is quite likely to be easy ground at Chepstow. She will stay every single inch of the marathon two-mile-and-two-furlong distance of the Letheby & Christopher Handicap.

Epsom is not the most punter-friendly course in the world simply because of the vicious right-to-left camber that tends to throw horses off an even keel.

One filly who doesn't seem to mind lugging left-handed is Twilight Mistress (7.35).

David Arbuthnot's four-year-old has performed well at the likes of Chester in the past, not to mention the fact she ran a blinder when second to Bint Royale at Pontefract on Monday.

* Mick Easterby heads to London today in an attempt to overturn a £1,300 fine.

The North Yorkshire trainer is appealing against the Jockey Club disciplinary committee's decision to penalise him over the running of Stonegrave in a maiden at Southwell in April.

He was punished under rule 155 (ii), which requires a trainer to give his jockey adequate instructions to ensure a horse runs on its merits.

Jockey Terry Lucas accepted a 14-day ban for his riding of Stonegrave, who was a never-nearer fifth of 11 at Southwell, and has already served the suspension.

But Easterby is upset by the guilty verdict passed by the committee in May and is taking his case to the Jockey Club's new appeal board.

The board, set up in light of the Human Rights Act, will be chaired by former High Court Judge Sir Edward Cazalet who is supported by Jockey Club members Anthony Mildmay-White and Wentworth Beaumont.

* Following Tony Culhane at Catterick yesterday was not for the faint-hearted, but all's well that ends well and he rewarded his supporters with a tremendous 2,676-1 four-timer on Mick Channon's pair Just Say Yes and Befriend, David Chapman's Sharp Hat and the Barry Hills-trained Minderoo.

The first were all involved in desperate finishes, each time the judge having to consult the photo-finish camera before announcing that all three had only a short head to spare - but Minderoo won in relative comfort by a length and a quarter!

Culhane has a splendid record for Channon and opened his scoring when Just Say Yes, who had led about a furlong out, just held the strong hallenge from Shelini in the European Breeders Fund Zetland Maiden Stakes.

Half-an-hour later Sharp Hat got up in the last strides to touch off Be My Tinker in the Dragon Troop Stakes.

And it was the same story in the following Hondeghem EBF Maiden Fillies' Stakes, Befriend, who was making her racecourse debut, collaring Spinning Jenni right on the line.

Minderoo, who was only sixth on the all-weather at Wolverhampton on Monday, may have had rather more to spare, but he needed all Culhane's strength and determination to get the better of Night Shift Blues.

Culhane, who rode four winners in a day at Musselburgh in 2000, was taking his score for the season to 39, 11 of them for Channon, and the former said: ''I remember Mick giving me a ride in a Listed race just after I came out of my apprenticeship, he showed his faith in me then and he has been great to me ever since. It is good to keep riding winners for him."

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