It's easy Action

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The Independent Online
THE Champion Hurdle second favourite Large Action came through his final Cheltenham prep here yesterday with a highly satisfactory performance in the City Trial Hurdle. Defeat was not expected - the seven-year-old started at 2-9 - but in a small field no conclusion is foregone.

The tactical battle began before the start, when Jamie Osborne's three rivals lined up in Indian file behind him. Despite the jockeys' and the starters' urgings they refused to join him abreast, so when the tapes rose Osborne set off at a walk in an unavailing effort to get something in front of him to give him a lead.

After a farcical 50 yards of "slow bicycling", Osborne gave in and jumped Large Action off, shadowed by the only other runner with any chance, Arabian Bold. Large Action made his displeasure at Arabian Bold's close attendance known by pinning his ears back and swishing his tail and, distracted, rather dived at the fourth hurdle. The pair were near together two out, but once Osborne got serious the favourite's class told and he quickened away readily, despite having lost a hind shoe during the race, to fly the last and come home 14 lengths clear.

Large Action was giving a stone and a half to the others and Oliver Sherwood was justifiably delighted with the gelding, third in last season's Champion as a novice and now 4-1 in most lists to go two better. The Upper Lambourn trainer said: "They tried everything to beat him, but he was very sharp once he was asked. He has definitely improved since the beginning of the season, and it was probably a blessing in disguise that Windsor was off at the new year and he could not run there, as it gave him a good mid- season break." Large Action was not unduly inconvenienced by yesterday's soft going and Sherwood added: "The only thing I would be frightened of at Cheltenham would be bottomless ground."

Large Action gave Sherwood and Osborne a big-race double after Auburn Castle's victory in the preceding event, the Michael Seely Nottinghamshire Novices' Chase. The six-year-old's task was made easier by the fourth- fence fall of the favourite, Dancing Paddy, and the last-fence blunder of In Truth, but Sherwood said: "If you jump you win races, and this horse has jumped like an experienced handicapper from the first time we schooled him." Auburn Castle is also Cheltenham bound, with a choice of engagements. If the ground is soft he will take his chance in the Arkle Trophy, where In Truth, upsides him and going well when he made his error yesterday, will reoppose.

It was a happy return to Nottingham for Diane Clay, out of action for six weeks after fracturing a hip joint in a fall on her last visit to the Trentside track. Yesterday, on her second ride back, she made virtually all to take the Colwick Park Novices' Hurdle on the consistent Kadari, saddled by her father Bill.

At Newcastle Willsford turned the Eider Chase, the day's richest event, into a procession. The 12-year-old, who is not entered in the Grand National, won the marathon by 20 lengths with six Aintree entries behind him.