Racing: Dove flies home

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TIME is running out for Cheltenham pointers, with the start of the Festival just nine days away. And here yesterday a clutch of contenders laid their final claims on the line.

Flakey Dove had a pleasing exercise in the Berkshire Hurdle, reeling in the leader Shujan by the second-last and winning like the classy professional she is. She remains around 20-1 for the Champion Hurdle. What might have been for yesterday's pilot, Richard Dunwoody, who is banned for Cheltenham, or Norman Williamson, who will join him on the sidelines if his appeal fails against the suspension (14- 17 March) he received at Doncaster, might yet be for another.

It was Flakey Dove's eighth race of the National Hunt campaign, more than any other Champion Hurdle contender, but the farm-bred eight-year-old thrives on her work. Andy Price, deputising yesterday for his brother Richard, who trains Flakey Dove, said: 'The more she runs the better she gets.'

The novice Shujan faded into third place, thus booking his place in the two-miles one furlong Supreme Novices' Hurdle, rather than the two-miles five furlongs Sun Alliance.

Majed, who got up to dead- heat for second behind Dancing Paddy in the opener, is likely to take his chance in the Champion, given good ground or softer. The significant move in the Champion Hurdle market yesterday was for David Elsworth's Muse, who reportedly sparkled in morning work with his stablemate Oh So Risky. Hills have cut him to 8-1 from 12-1, and eased Oh So Risky to 4-1 behind the 11- 4 favourite Fortune and Fame.

Dancing Paddy's previous three planned appearances had all been abandoned, but his trainer Ken Cunningham- Brown's patience was rewarded as the six-year-old made all. He now heads for the County Handicap Hurdle.

Martin Pipe produced some of his specialist magic in conjuring a win from Miinnehoma after an absence of more than a year with back problems. Freddie Starr's talented 11-year-old beat Bradbury Star in the Sun Alliance Chase two years ago and, although his trainer expects him to return to that form, he did not expect such a bold showing yesterday.

Miinnehoma has several Festival options, including the Gold Cup. His win, giving 18lb to another ex-invalid, Forest Sun, brought Dunwoody to within two of Adrian Maguire, on duty at Stratford. Pipe said: 'Richard handled him beautifully; I told him to put him right for Cheltenham - for someone else to ride.'

If that remark upset him, Dunwoody didn't let it show. He went on to complete a treble on All For Luck in the Jack O'Newbury Novices' Chase.

The trainer John Upson said he may quit after his main owner, Andrew Cohen, told him yesterday he was switching his 19 horses, including Zeta's Lad, to Charlie Brooks's stable.