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Racing: Accident kills Old favourite

Al Mutahm, a Group race winner on the flat and a 33-1 chance for the Champion Hurdle, was destroyed yesterday after severing a tendon in the Ramsbury Hurdle at Newbury.

Jim Old's gelding was having his second outing since being bought for pounds 80,000 by the composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber as a birthday present for his wife, Madeleine. Al Mutahm was widely expected to account for two inferior rivals and was sent off the hot favourite at 4-11, but he was pulled up soon after the cross flight, four from home, by his jockey, Jamie Osborne. Sun Surfer duly recorded a simple success.

'I felt his stride go on landing and initially thought he had broken a leg,' Osborne said. Al Mutahm was taken back to the racecourse stables, but a veterinary examination concluded that there was no hope of saving him.

'I feel so sorry for Jim, he knew Al Mutahm much longer than I did,' Lady Lloyd Webber said. 'He was a gorgeous horse and it's very sad. I certainly hope to have another horse with Jim.'

While the loss will be felt keenly by the Lloyd Webbers, for Old it will be a source of particular distress. After training successfully from a yard near Bristol for several years, during which time he sent out Cima to be placed in the Champion Hurdle, Old was forced to seek fresh accommodation when a ferocious and persistent virus took hold of his string. Although his fortunes took time to recover after a move to Ditcheat in Somerset, it was Al Mutahm who finally announced a return to form by winning the Group Three Sagaro Stakes at Ascot, Old's first Pattern race success. For a small yard such as his, the publicity garnered by a consistently high-class performer is more valuable than a dozen advertisements in The Sporting Life.

Al Mutahm's fatal injury might have occurred anywhere, and his connections attached no blame to the ground at Newbury, which was adjudged to be just the right side of raceable after a frosty night and two inspections yesterday morning. Several trainers disagreed, and the tally of non-runners rose to 16 during the course of the afternoon.

Three were missing from the Elcot Park Novice Chase, in which Travelling Wrong was the 4-5 favourite to record his fourth success in as many starts under Rules. Yet his trainer, David Nicholson, was far from convinced that his charge deserved to be so short, and was proved correct when Travelling Wrong could finish only third to Young Hustler after making a series of bad mistakes.

'He had won three 'Mickey Mouse' races and was always likely to be beaten by Young Hustler,' Nicholson said.

The overnight temperatures have been resolutely sub-zero for several days, but the much-promised thaw may soon arrive. The chances for Sedgefield's meeting tomorrow are rated no more than 50-50 by the clerk of the course, but Lingfield is hopeful that its card will survive an inspection this afternoon. Worcester, due to race on Thursday, reports no problems.

(Photograph omitted)