Racing: Punters in no rush to support Istabraq

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The Independent Online

Istabraq drifted out to the longest price he has been for almost two years in the Tote's Champion Hurdle ante-post market yesterday. The three-time winner of the race was pushed from 7-4 to 15-8 to record an historic fourth victory at Cheltenham on 12 March.

The Tote said that Aidan O'Brien's star, now a 10-year- old, continued to be friendless in their betting lists. "We haven't been able to give Istabraq away in our Champion Hurdle market so far," said Jeremy Scott, press officer for the bookmakers.

"Istabraq remains a winner in our book. With some shrewd money coming in for some of the young pretenders to the crown, including Brother Joe, Valiramix and Landing Light ­ all of which we've laid at big prices ­ we're now more than prepared to lay a chunk on Istabraq," Scott said.

Istabraq's attempt at a fourth title was thwarted last year when the Cheltenham Festival fell victim to the foot and mouth outbreak, and he fell in two of his three starts in 2001.

Scott pointed out that faith in Istabraq dwindled at this time last year when he drifted out to 11-8. But then the horse was hugely impressive when winning the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last January. Following that race, he was slashed to 1-2 by the Tote for the Champion Hurdle that never was.

Ladbrokes, which has more interests in Ireland than the Tote, declined to join the January sales yesterday, however. They kept Istabraq at only 5-4.

Another top Cheltenham contender will be put through his paces at Huntingdon today. Looks Like Trouble, the 2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, will have a gallop after the last race.

The Noel Chance-trained nine-year-old, unraced through injury since winning at Down Royal 14 months ago, will have a thorough test in a two-mile workout with a stable-companion. "This will be real work ­ he's had a few at home but this will be the first on the racecourse," Chance said yesterday. "Saturday morning will be the test of how it went, not the gallop. Cold legs is what we're looking for. He was perfect last time."

The trainer added that he hoped Seamus Durack would be in the saddle. Looks Like Trouble is a best-priced 12-1 with Ladbrokes for the Gold Cup on 14 March.

Martin Pipe's Classified has been installed as 5-1 market leader by Coral for the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old landed the Challow Hurdle at Newbury last time out and is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles. Irish hope Like-A-Butterfly, who runs in the Istabraq colours of J P McManus, is a 6-1 chance, with Len Lungo's The Bajan Bandit on 7-1. François Doumen's Never, owned by Sir Peter O'Sullevan, is on offer at 8-1.

A Pipe-trained horse also heads Coral's betting on the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, with Westender quoted at 5-1. Air Marshall, a Group winner on the Flat when with Sir Michael Stoute and now with Nicky Henderson, is available at 16-1.

At Wincanton yesterday, Tony McCoy was stood down following three unsuccessful rides. Despite being bruised and battered, and nursing stitches in the back of his head as the result of falls of Newbury 24 hours earlier, he went to the Somerset track.

But after his third attempt in the saddle aboard third-placed Dunster Castle, McCoy complained of not feeling too well. On being examined by Dr Paul Philips, the course doctor, the champion jockey was stood down for the remainder of the meeting. McCoy said he would see how his neck felt this morning before deciding whether to ride at Huntingdon or not.