Lower ambitions for Action

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The Independent Online
Racing

GREG WOOD

As experiments go, the attempt to introduce Large Action to a new career over fences seems unlikely to attract the attention of the Nobel Prize committee. After just one successful but unconvincing outing over the larger obstacles, Oliver Sherwood's stable announced yesterday that the gelding, who has been placed in the last two runnings of the Champion Hurdle, is now expected to revert to timber in the hope that he can make it third time lucky.

Large Action's chasing debut at Uttoxeter was an eventful race, with three horses departing at the first and Large Action himself, despite starting at long odds-on, rarely fluent at his fences. Sherwood commented immediately afterwards that "10-1 with a run for the Champion Hurdle" would be a useful bet, and yesterday a spokesman for the stable said: "Large Action jumped adequately at Uttoxeter but Mr Sherwood feels that he will be happier over hurdles. The Champion Hurdle has really opened up now with Relkeel, Danoli and Alderbrook all sidelined."

Only two of those horses, however, are definitely out for the season. Alderbrook, the current champion, is still quoted in all the ante-post lists, although Large Action is now closing in on favouritism. Ladbrokes cut him to 9-2 from 6-1 yesterday, behind only Alderbrook (3-1 with a run from 4-1) and Montelado (4-1 from 7-2).

Large Action will now miss the First National Bank Chase at Ascot on Saturday week, in which he would have been asked to carry top weight of 12 stone along with Brief Gale, last year's Sun Alliance Chase winner. Despite that burden, however, Josh Gifford's mare remains a possible runner in the race.

"If we get some rain Ascot might be the right place for her," Gifford said yesterday, "as she would only have to give away a stone and a half, but she will not run anywhere until we get some rain. I took her out of the Hennessy as I wouldn't want her to run over three and a quarter miles without getting a run into her first."

Another significant absentee when the latest declarations for the Hennessy Gold Cup were released yesterday was Barton Bank, who will run next in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day rather than the Newbury race on 25 November. The ante-post favourite for the Hennessy with Ladbrokes is One Man, last year's winner, despite the fact that his jumping deteriorated towards the end of last season and that he is now asked to race from a 25lb higher mark than 12 months ago.

The 7-2 on offer about One Man can hardly be called good value, but with the betting then 10-1 bar, there should be interesting prices further down the list. The remainder of Ladbrokes odds are: 10-1 Val D'Alene, Rough Quest, 12-1 Cogent, Earth Summit, Jodami, Young Hustler, 14-1 Monsieur Le Cure, Morgan's Harbour, Unholy Alliance, 16-1 bar.

The racing at Newbury yesterday was of a rather more modest nature, with just 26 runners in the six races, but the course could at least announce plans to revitalise its other major National Hunt event, the Tote Gold Trophy Handicap Hurdle in February.

Some might feel that with horses of the calibre of Deep Sensation and Large Action among its recent winners, the race is in reasonable health, but the course clearly believes that the high quality of entries is taking the contest away from its roots as a rough-and-tumble handicap.

Added prize-money for next year's renewal will be raised to pounds 80,000 from pounds 50,000, but a new system, devised by the the British Horseracing Board's race-planning department, will attempt to prevent top-class hurdlers from compressing the handicap. Horses will carry an extra pound, over and above the top weight of 12 stone, for every pound by which their offical rating exceeds 170.

In practice, this may simply deter the Champion Hurdle contenders from running in the Newbury race, but in the run-up to the Festival they have plenty of alternatives. If the move sees a return to the race's glory days as an unmissable betting highlight, few punters will complain.

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