Uttoxeter loses race to bomb scare

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The Independent Online

Three months to the day after a fixture at Ascot was disrupted mid-meeting following a security alert, Uttoxeter suffered the same fate yesterday. The final race at the Staffordshire course was lost after several telephone calls with a coded warning were received during the running of the 3.10 contest, a handicap chase.

Three months to the day after a fixture at Ascot was disrupted mid-meeting following a security alert, Uttoxeter suffered the same fate yesterday. The final race at the Staffordshire course was lost after several telephone calls with a coded warning were received during the running of the 3.10 contest, a handicap chase.

Racegoers were asked to evacuate the stands even as the seven runners were galloping round the track. The meeting, attended by 5,000, was abandoned soon afterwards and police with sniffer dogs moved in to check the buildings. Rod Street, Uttoxeter's general manager, said: "We had to take the bomb warning seriously due to the persistent number of calls. A code was given, as was a precise location. The public were brilliant and responded to our request promptly and courteously."

High-profile racing days have infamously been the target for such mischief in the past, notably the 1997 Grand National, postponed because of an IRA threat, and the 1999 King George VI Chase at Kempton. Although yesterday's card, and the Ascot meeting in October, were lower-key, both were televised.

Assorted bad weather, however, has been racing's main bugbear recently. But although it may have played havoc with his sport, as far as Tony McCoy is concerned the rain-laden wind that wiped out Sandown yesterday was by no means ill.

The transfer of the meeting's feature, the Tolworth Hurdle, to next Saturday's already- valuable card at Ascot means that the champion jockey will, despite a suspension scheduled for that day, be able to ride. The key to his reprieve is the fact that the Tolworth Hurdle, a significant novices' trial for the Cheltenham festival, is a Grade One contest. Punishments for minor offences, such as the whip violation at Taunton on Thursday which led to McCoy's one-day ban, can be deferred if they fall on the day of a top-level race.

The thinking behind such benevolence is that the transgressor should not over-harshly penalised by having to miss riding a good horse or the chance of picking up good prize money. McCoy is due to ride Iznogoud for Martin Pipe in the Tolworth Hurdle and has a choice of three from Nicholas-hayne - Majadou, Exit Swinger and Carlovent - in the Victor Chandler Chase.

He was out of luck at Uttox-eter yesterday but before proceedings were brought to an enforced end racegoers had the opportunity to see the Ulsterman at his strongest, albeit on a loser. But no other man could have persuaded Wain Mountain to finish as close as he did, just half a length behind the winning favourite Garruth in the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle.

Garruth, blinkered for the first time, took up the running with a circuit to go and at one point looked poised for a confortable win. But McCoy's effectiveness in persuading the tail-swishing Wain Mountain not to down tools and his persistence once the gelding had agreed to change his mind meant that Russ Garrity on the leader could not ease up in his own efforts for a single stride.

With quality in terms of horseflesh fairly thin on the ground at Uttoxeter, the focus was on jockeys, and Andrew Thornton reached a personal landmark when Needwood Lion became his 400th winner in the novices' chase. As well as being talented, the 28-year-old Thornton is a trier; his career has been regularly punctuated by injury but he has always bounced back. Free-running Needwood Lion was aptly described afterwards by his trainer Henry Daly as "a brave man's ride".

Thornton, whose biggest win was on Cool Dawn in the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup, said: "It took a long time for me to work my way up to the top and once you get there and get one or two injuries you get knocked back down again. But its all part of the job, which you take on the chin."

At Haydock the most eye-catching performance came from Noble Lord, who shrugged off a 266-day absence and joint top-weight for a nine-length victory in the three-mile New Year Handicap Chase, a pointer to the Grand National. The neat eight-year-old chestnut, ridden by Warren Marston, was one of three in the air together two out but by the final obstacle had the measure of Hescondido and Village King and stayed on with a will on the long slog to the line.

Noble Lord had been off the course since chasing home Paris Pike in last year's Scottish National at Ayr in April, and now has the real thing at Aintree, for which he is 33-1 with Ladbrokes, pencilled in.

"This horse is just so tough if his leg dropped off he would keep going," said trainer Richard Phillips. "He is small but he gets in the air and I'm sure he would be fine at Aintree."

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