Dunwoody proves fitness for Flagship

FESTIVAL FOCUS: Bradley takes the wrong course of action while another top rider aims to have the last laugh at Cheltenham
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If the bookmakers were offering odds about which will be the closest race of the Cheltenham Festival, then the Queen Mother Champion Chase would be the odds-on favourite. Klairon Davis and Viking Flagship, who jumped the final fence together last year, and between them have won the last three runnings of the race, are virtually inseparable at the head of the betting for next Wednesday's renewal, for which nine horses stood their ground yesterday.

Both Ladbrokes and William Hill have a slight preference in their lists for last year's winner, Klairon Davis, but Coral are unable to divide Arthur Moore's gelding and the David Nicholson-trained Viking Flagship, who was successful in 1994 and 1995. The firm quotes the pair at 9-4.

Ladbrokes report substantial backing for Strong Promise, conqueror of One Man in the Comet Chase at Ascot, and have cut him from 9-2 to 7-2.

Richard Dunwoody, who is due to partner Viking Flagship in the enforced absence of Adrian Maguire, made a successful return from injury at Sandown yesterday.

Dunwoody, who suffered a fractured sternum in a fall from See More Business in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton 13 days ago, rode Friendship to victory for Nicky Henderson. "That was OK," Dunwoody said. "I've been running five miles a day and riding a bike for 15 to 20 minutes to get back to fitness.

"The injury was sore last week but the time it is most painful is when I sneeze, cough or laugh. I can tell you exactly how many times I have sneezed or coughed in the last fortnight."

Not so fortunate is Lorcan Wyer. Concussed following a fall from Thornton Gate at Doncaster last Saturday, Wyer also sustained ligament damage to his left shoulder.

The Irishman had hoped to resume riding at Catterick on Wednesday, but his shoulder was still giving him trouble and he decided to delay his return until this weekend. However, the condition of his shoulder has not improved and the rider will now have to miss Cheltenham.

"My shoulder is still giving me trouble," Wyer said. "It is not too good and it will have to improve significantly before I start riding again. I don't know when that will be."

Graham Bradley, who partners Collier Bay, favourite for Tuesday's Champion Hurdle, received a seven-day suspension for taking the wrong course at Exeter yesterday. Importantly for the veteran jockey, the ban starts on Monday week rather than at the start of Festival week.

Bradley, riding second past the post Carole's Crusader in the novices' chase, was adjudged by the stewards to have gone the wrong side of the fourth-last fence, which was dolled off.

"When you are out there and the adrenalin is up and you are trying to ride a finish, it is a bit different to sitting in the stewards' room seeing it all in slow motion," Bradley said.

Tony McCoy, who was injured in a fall at Wincanton on Thursday, rode a double yesterday when partnering Font Romeu and Give And Take to victory for Martin Pipe in the first two races.

The jockey had been criticised by the trainer Toby Balding for riding at the meeting. Balding, McCoy's mentor, urged the champion not to risk suffering any more injury and give himself a break.

Yesterday Balding stressed: "What I said was in my opinion he should not be riding until Cheltenham, not that he should not be riding at Cheltenham. But I stand by the rest of what I said and I didn't think he should be going down to Exeter for the sort of rides he has there. He should be taking a few days off to put himself right for the Festival."

QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE (Cheltenham, Weds) Coral: 9-4 Klairon Davis & Viking Flagship, 7-2 Ask Tom, 9-2 Strong Promise, 10-1 Martha's Son, 14-1 Arctic Kinsman, 20-1 Double Symphony, 50-1 Lord Dorcet & Certainly Strong. Ladbrokes: 2-1 Klairon Davis, 9-4 Viking Flagship, 7-2 Strong Promise, 5-1 Ask Tom, 12-1 Martha's Son, 16-1 Arctic Kinsman, 20-1 Double Symphony, 25-1 Certainly Strong, 40-1 Lord Dorcet. William Hill: 2-1 Klairon Davis, 5-2 Viking Flagship, 4-1 Ask Tom, 4-1 Strong Promise, 10-1 Martha's Son, 20-1 Arctic Kinsman, Certainly Strong & Double Symphony, 33-1 Lord Dorcet.