Racing: Feathard Lady joins sick list of Festival fancies

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The hard hand of fate revealed that it had another nasty trick up its sleeve yesterday when Feathard Lady, the Champion Hurdle favourite, was felled by injury. The mare may make it to Cheltenham but she is surely out of her next target, the AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown this month.

Colm Murphy, her downcast trainer, who also has Brave Inca in the Champion, set his troubles aside to ensure the public was informed of the development and contacted the Press Association news agency, saying: "Feathard Lady has sprained her off-hind fetlock joint. She will definitely miss the Irish Champion Hurdle but we don't know yet how long she will be out."

Following the fine example of Conor Clarkson, the owner of Kicking King, who had a similarly woeful injury tale to tell last week, a representative of the Lord of the Rings Syndicate, who own Feathard Lady, also contacted the leading betting exchange, Betfair, to let the firm know an announcement was imminent.

"It's a torrid time for the big races at Cheltenham and you can only sympathise with the owners," Betfair's spokesman, Tony Calvin, said. "But yet again it's fantastic to see that at a time when it must be the last thing on their mind, an owner puts the interests of punters at the forefront.

"This allows us to monitor the market closely and re-order it on the official announcement so that customers immediately know that something is amiss."

Feathard Lady drifted to a high of 23-1 in Betfair's Champion Hurdle ante-post market after the announcement that she had suffered a setback. Generally available at 5-1 on Betfair before the injury, the mare is now available at 12-1.

Punters and layers who trade at that price will remain in the dark for some time about the mare's prospects of making the line-up on 14 March.

"The vet had a look at her this morning but we will know more in a couple of days to a week," Murphy said yesterday. "She did a canter on Monday morning and everything seemed fine but when she pulled out of her box this morning she was lame.

"It's hard to say anything about Cheltenham at the moment. We are lucky she is a mare who doesn't take a lot of work to get fit so we wouldn't have given up at this stage."

Feathard Lady shot to the head of the Champion Hurdle betting after putting up a hugely impressive performance when lifting the Christmas Hurdle at Sandown on Boxing Day. She beat Self Defense by 12 lengths to maintain her unbeaten record, which encompasses five hurdle races and two bumpers.

She remains the 5-2 favourite with William Hill and 11-4 market leader with Totesport for the Champion but both firms offer a "with a run" proviso.

Coral have her as the co-favourite of three along with stablemate Brave Inca and the reigning champion Hardy Eustace, while Ladbrokes have pushed her out to 5-1.

Feathard Lady's injury is the latest in a string of high-profile casualties ahead of the Festival. Kicking King, the Gold Cup winner, and Inglis Drever, the World Hurdle victor, are both out of action with tendon problems, while the Champion Hurdle contender Harchibald is another racing against the clock after undergoing surgery last week.

One champion still standing is Moscow Flyer, the leading two-mile chaser, who heads the 29 entries announced yesterday for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The 12-year-old has been beaten on his last three starts, however, and faces stiff opposition from a number of pretenders to his crown, including the Paul Nicholls-trained Kauto Star, who heads the market for the race.

CHAMPION HURDLE (Cheltenham, 14 March): Ladbrokes: 4-1 Arcalis, Hardy Eustace, 9-2 Brave Inca, 5-1 Feathard Lady, 6-1 Lingo, 14-1 Faasel, 20-1 Essex, 25-1 Macs Joy, United, 33-1 others. Coral: 4-1 Feathard Lady, Brave Inca, Hardy Eustace, 5-1 Arcalis, 7-1 Lingo, 16-1 Faasel, 20-1 Essex, Macs Joy, Penzance, 25-1 United, Al Eile, 33-1 others. William Hill: 5-2 (with a run) Feathard Lady, 7-2 (with a run) Harchibald, 4-1 Arcalis, Brave Inca, Hardy Eustace, 8-1 Lingo, 16-1 Faasel, 25-1 Al Eile, 33-1 others. Totesport: 11-4 (with a run) Feathard Lady, 3-1 Brave Inca, Hardy Eustace, 9-2 Arcalis, 6-1 Lingo, 14-1 Faasel, 20-1 Accordion Etoile, Essex, 33-1 others.

QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE (Cheltenham, 15 March): Totesport: 6-4 Kauto Star, 5-1 Moscow Flyer, 8-1 Ashley Brook, Central House, Cloone River, Watson Lake, 9-1 Fota Island, 14-1 Contraband, 16-1 Hi Cloy, 20-1 Fundamentalist, 33-1 Oneway, 50-1 others.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Glad Big

(Lingfield 1.10)

NB: Tacin

(Newbury 2.25)