National deal on horse branding

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The Independent Online
Racing

GREG WOOD

Common sense has recently been conspicuous only by its absence in the acrimonious dispute between the British Horseracing Board and race sponsors over logos on jockeys' silks. Some sponsors, you may recall, feel that the arrival of advertising on riders' chests dilutes the impact of their corporate message.

An offshoot of this argument has concerned the granting by the BHB of exclusive logo rights to Martell and Vodafone at the two big meetings they sponsor featuring the Grand National and Derby respectively. Owners were told that, irrespective of any agreements they might have signed for silk sponsorship, colours at these meetings would carry only the logos of the overall sponsor.

Here at least though, a spirit of co-operation now seems to have broken out. The BHB, owners and Martell yesterday announced an agreement which, while maintaining Martell's exclusive branding in six of the Aintree Festival's 20 races, will relax the company's control in the remainder, six of which will be televised live. Owners will be paid pounds 50 for carrying a Martell logo as required, and pounds 500 for doing so in the Grand National itself.

The agreement appears a reasonable compromise, and one which Vodafone may well copy at the Derby meeting. It is an example which several other leading sponsors -George Ward of Bonusprint springs to mind -might do well to ponder.

The most obvious sponsor for Atours at present would be an insurance company. David Elsworth's hurdler was an 8-1 chance for the Champion Hurdle two weeks ago. But two setbacks since now seem to have all but ruled him out of Cheltenham.

"Atours had been making brilliant progress until last Thursday," a spokeswoman for his yard said yesterday. "From not being able to stand on Sunday, he was walking and everyone was amazed at his progress. But as he was being led back in high spirits on Thursday, he jumped and kicked and he is back to square one. He may have pulled the muscle again and it's not looking too good for the Champion Hurdle at the moment."

Even in Atours' absence, Elsworth should be at least double-handed in the Champion, with Oh So Risky and Absalom's Lady on course. Muse, a former dual winner of the Christmas Hurdle, could also take his chance after finishing 25 lengths fifth to Alderbrook at Kempton on Saturday, his first outing over timber for almost two years.

Alderbrook's success three days ago marked him down as a Festival banker for most punters, but a banker of a different sort begs to differ. Aidan Ryan, the owner of Bimsey, a 33-1 chance for the Champion, yesterday described the Kempton form as "rubbish".

"Alderbrook was always travelling well, but the horse that was second [Mack The Knife] had been beaten in a novice hurdle in its previous race," Ryan said. "If Mysilv or Atours had been in the race you'd have expected them to win by 20 lengths. Obviously you've got to respect him, but I can't believe he's an 8-11 shot." Alderbrook's supporters will hope that Ryan, an investment banker, knows more about bulls and bears than he does about racehorses.

n Algan, the 1994 King George VI Chase winner, recorded an easy success in the Prix Robert de Clermont Tonnerre at Auteuil yesterday. The Grand National hope, As Des Carres, whose three previous races had been in Britain, was seventh.

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