Racing: Blight hits Crop bets: Festival fancy doubtful

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The Independent Online
FOR the second time in four days an Irish horse fell from the summit of the Champion Hurdle ante-post market yesterday as Vintage Crop joined Montelado as a doubtful runner for Cheltenham.

Ladbrokes have taken Dermot Weld's Melbourne Cup winner out of their list amid a growing belief that the chestnut's owner, Michael Smurfit, may now be represented in the race he sponsors by another Rosewell House inmate, Fortune And Fame.

Vintage Crop is currently resting at the end of a year which saw him win about pounds 800,000 in prize money and lose 19 kilos on his venture to the Antipodes last month. 'No decision will be made about the horse before the middle of January, but obviously when you go to Australia and back the trip takes a lot out of you,' Weld said yesterday. 'It's left it's mark on the horse and I'd have to say it's unlikely at this stage that he'll be running in the Champion Hurdle.'

Much would seem to depend on the rehabilitation of Fortune And Fame, who was cut to 16-1 by Ladbrokes yesterday. He was a leading tenderfoot hurdler two seasons ago but has been off for over a year with tendon problems.

'He is a very high class horse who has been beaten only once over hurdles and that was at Cheltenham when he was third to Flown (in the 1992 Supreme Novice Hurdle),' Weld said.

'Fortune And Fame is back now in full work, he schooled the other day, jumping like a stag and I'm pleased with him. He'll run at Leopardstown at Christmas in a big conditions hurdle and depending on how he gets on there we can make a decision on whether he'll be trained for the Champion Hurdle or go novice chasing.'

Weld would like to follow the former path and rest Vintage Crop for a summer campaign. 'If Fortune And Fame ran well it would make my decision easier, let's be straight about it,' he said. 'But I always have the other option of going for the Champion Hurdle with Vintage Crop and the two-mile novice chase with Fortune And Fame. He's a superb jumper.'

Britain's leading exponent of the jumping game, the Gold Cup winner Jodami, appears to have found an easy pay day in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow on Saturday. With Carvill's Hill's comeback still on hold, Peter Beaumont's gelding faces a maximum of four rivals, just one of whom, the race-rusty Party Politics, will race from his proper handicap mark.

With the Welsh race close to a formality, thoughts have already turned to Jodami's Christmas target, and it now seems he may sidestep Wetherby and take in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. 'Kempton may not be the ideal course for him but the King George is a championship race and the owner (John Yeadon) is keen to take the option,' Beaumont said yesterday.

CHAMPION HURDLE (Cheltenham, March): Ladbrokes: 7-1 Granville Again, 8-1 King Credo, 10-1 Carobee & Halkopous, 12-1 Tiananmen Square, 14-1 Bold Boss & Shawiya, 16-1 Fortune And Fame, 20-1 bar.