Racing: Feathard Lady extends winning run by showing the heart of a Champion

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Slightly smudged, perhaps, but there it is on the mare's forehead: a splash of white in the shape of a heart. And this, judged on her contribution to another afternoon of Irish euphoria here yesterday, seems set to become one of the Turf's defining motifs for so long as Feathard Lady is around.

In serenely extending her unbeaten record to seven in the Christmas Hurdle, the little mare - dirt cheap as she was, scrawny as she remains, and on all available evidence invincible - captured many new hearts. Her first trip to these shores, moreover, will have won over more clinical observers, too. Stan James, who sponsored the whole card, now offer 7-1 against Feathard Lady winning the Champion Hurdle itself, and the 10-1 available elsewhere will not last long.

Every time Feathard Lady is raised in grade, she wins more easily. Here she proved a class apart, bolting a dozen lengths clear of Self Defense after jumping deftly and creeping quietly into contention on the home turn. As a mare, admittedly, she was receiving 7lb from the rest. But make no mistake, she has the potential to find a niche in Irish jumping folklore - owned as she is by a dozen lads who drink in the same Co Tipperary bar, and spent barely £1,000 between them.

In Brave Inca her young trainer, Colm Murphy, already has one of the best hurdlers in Ireland. And the fact that he may not even be the best in his own stable - which houses just 35 animals - would suggest that Murphy did not find either through beginner's luck.

"You'd feel blessed to have one of them in a lifetime," he said. "To have the two together is unreal. They're chalk and cheese, you couldn't compare them. He is tough as nails, she does everything so easily. They're going to run into each other sooner rather than later, but with a bit of luck they will dead-heat.

"I would have been disappointed had she not been thereabouts, but to win like that was way beyond our expectations. We have no idea how good she might be."

Murphy will now attempt to find out in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on 29 January. Brave Inca, meanwhile, runs at the same track on Thursday.

Feathard Lady's rider, Ruby Walsh, had already had the red carpet laid out for his return from injury, winning the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase on Hoo La Baloo after Racing Demon, the odds-on favourite, was scratched and the remaining three runners all fell. Hoo La Baloo is being quoted for the Irish Independent Arkle Chase at Cheltenham, but he throws out his right foreleg and Paul Nicholls recognises that he will not be anywhere near so proficient going left-handed.

The other novices' chase, over three miles, was notable for some pretty disorderly jumping, but Tony McCoy managed to pull the prize out of the fire on Darkness, who was going nowhere for much of the race but finally gathered momentum on the hill. Coral contrived to halve his Royal & SunAlliance Chase odds to 5-1, in the process grossly inflating the curious defence offered by his trainer. "He looked awkward in the air," Charlie Egerton said. "But he was actually all right by the time he landed."

CHAMPION HURDLE (Cheltenham, 14 March) Tote: 4-1 Harchibald, 5-1 Hardy Eustace, 11-2 Arcalis, Brave Inca, 7-1 (from 20-1) Feathard Lady, Lingo, 14-1 Essex, 16-1 Faasel, 20-1 Accordion Etoile, Back In Front, Macs Joy, 25-1 Al Eile, 33-1 Akilak, Ambobo, Intersky Falcon, Mighty Man, Penzance, United, 40-1 others.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Bridgewater Boys (Southwell 3.20)

NB: Yenaled

(Southwell 12.35)