Racing Commentary: Fame's run hangs in the balance: The bookmakers' grapevine proves accurate as Ireland's main Champion Hurdle hope enters a race against time

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The Independent Online
THE BOOKMAKERS again showed they can give MI6 a good run for their money in gathering information when removing Fortune And Fame from their Champion Hurdle lists over the weekend. The gelding's trainer, Dermot Weld, admitted yesterday that his horse was injured and no better than a 60-40 chance to make Cheltenham for tomorrow's hurdling crown.

Weld, who returned from Australia yesterday and may have been tempted to start the duty frees before they reached the cabinet, was told Fortune And Fame had become cast in his box over Friday night. That is, he got down in his box after lights out and wedged himself, unable to get up.

'There is bruising on the inside of a near-hind leg, it's soft tissue swelling,' Ireland's champion trainer said yesterday. 'He's been X-rayed and there are no problems in that respect, although he's still quite sore.

'It depends how rapidly we can get all that bruising away and all we can do, like with any athlete, is try to get the inflammation down and do some light exercise with him. He went swimming this morning and there's a 60-40 chance he'll run. He was not scheduled to travel until the day anyway, and I'll defer a final decision until Tuesday morning.'

The first sign that all was not well with Fortune And Fame came on Saturday, when the horse was removed from the lists of both Coral and William Hill. Irish 'faces' (well- known, informed punters) were keen to support the seven-year-old's market rival, Oh So Risky, and it was assumed that old leg injuries had resurfaced.

Ironically, the problem was elsewhere. 'It's nothing to do with his tendons like all the rumours have been saying before,' Weld added. 'It was perhaps caused because he was so well in himself.'

Fortune And Fame is now out to 5-1 (with a run) with William Hill, while Oh So Risky is down to 9-4 to provide David Elsworth with his first Champion Hurdle. The Whitcombe trainer also saddles Muse and Absalom's Lady. Adrian Maguire, Fortune And Fame's regular rider, has a ready made replacement should his mount defect. Steve Woodman is standing by to offer the Irishman King Credo, fourth in the race last season.

'Everyone seems to have forgotten about King Credo, but he has done some terrific bits of work lately,' Woodman said of his 33-1 shot yesterday. 'He struck into himself during the Cleeve Hurdle (at Cheltenham in January) but now I've got him fresh. To me he's the same horse that ran so well last year if not better. He's just had a few hiccups along the way.'

There have been hiccups also for another Irish representative, Shawiya, the winner of the Triumph Hurdle 12 months ago. The mare, however, is 95 per cent likely to run, according to her trainer, Michael O'Brien. 'She bruised a foot, but is a good deal improved after she paddled in the salt water on the beach this morning,' he said of Irish champion Charlie Swan's mount.

While hurdling's championship has been disrupted, the search to find the top staying chaser seems to go no further than the Yorkshire yard which sounds like it was named after a bad takeaway, Peter Beaumont's Foulrice Farm. The napkins may already being folded for celebrations at the Brandsby trainer's local, the White Bear at Stillington, as he reported that Jodami was 'in good nick' and fully tuned in his effort to win a second consecutive Gold Cup.

The huge gelding will travel to the course on Wednesday, but the security cordon has already been drawn. 'We've got good security here and for the last couple of days I've stopped people coming here, the press and TV,' he said. The sights of the displaced media caravan will doubtlessly now be on Weld's Rosewell House.

CHAMPION HURDLE (tomorrow, first day of three-day Festival): Coral: 5-2 Oh So Risky, 6-1 Halkopous & Large Action, 8-1 Muse, 10-1 Granville Again, 12-1 bar. (Fortune And Fame 11-4 with a run). Hills (non-runner no bet): 9-4 Oh So Risky, 5-1 Fortune & Fame, 6-1 Muse & Large Action, 13-2 Halkopous, 10-1 Granville Again & Flakey Dove, 16-1 bar.

(Photograph omitted)

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