Racing: Dunwoody starts to close the gap: Second treble signals that a sleeping giant is awakening and can narrow the yawning title chasm. Richard Edmondson reports

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THE MORIBUND betting medium of the jump jockeys' championship twitched for the second time in three days yesterday when Richard Dunwoody again rode a hat-trick, at Southwell, to narrow the deficit on Adrian Maguire.

The champion rider of last season is now 37 behind David Nicholson's stable jockey and William Hill make him a 3-1 chance to keep his crown. Maguire is a 1-5 shot.

Dunwoody's treble was achieved on horses prepared by Martin Pipe, as at Warwick on Saturday, and there are signs that the champion trainer is through the somnolent stage of a Gulliver-style season, shaking off an early-season virus at his Wellington yard.

'Martin has been very patient and things are now looking up,' Dunwoody said last night. 'While he was not having many runners it was up to me to go out and get some decent rides, so probably there was a lot more work involved. I've been flat out, and trying to get as many good outside rides as I can in the meantime.'

Home mounts formed the early part of the fightback yesterday though, two of them coming in the aptly-titled Submerged Novices' Hurdle and Noah's Ark Selling Hurdle. 'With Doualago we made up for a fall the other day, and the other two won quite easily,' Dunwoody reported.

With Pipe back to form, Maguire can temporarily pocket the notes for his acceptance speech, but it may be that the ultimate destination of the championship will be decided by a match off the track, the one between the pacesetters' agents. Maguire's bookings are handled by Dave Roberts, while Dunwoody, whose momentum was hardly helped when he dispensed with the services of Robert Kington earlier this season, now has Robert Parsons on his payroll.

'Robert is very keen and as he gets even more to grips with the job, things will get better,' Dunwoody said. 'Dave Roberts is certainly working hard to get Adrian on the right horses. They're going to be difficult to peg back.'

The fillip of recent days has not blinded Dundwoody to the magnitude of the task ahead of him. 'It's been looking increasingly desperate but in no way would I concede or stop working harder for it,' he said.

'Obviously it will need a near-miracle to get back into it because Adrian commands a lot of decent spare rides. We've had a couple of bright days but I'm sure there will be a lot more ups and downs before the season is over. I just hope we keep the winners flowing consistently.'

The prospects of Dunwoody narrowing the advantage still further at Ascot later this week look slim, not least because of bleak prospects for the meeting itself. An inspection will be made at 11.30am tomorrow and Nick Beaumont, the clerk of the course, said yesterday: 'We've had three-quarters of an inch of rain overnight and racing on Friday and Saturday must be considered extremely doubtful unless there is dramatic improvement. The forecast is very bad.'

If racing is abandoned, among the races lost will be the valuable Victor Chandler Chase, for which seven horses were declared yesterday. Perhaps that would be no bad thing for Dunwoody, as among the entries are three animals trained by David Nicholson.

VICTOR CHANDLER CHASE (Ascot, Saturday): William Hill: 11-4 Billy Bathgate, 7-2 Deep Sensation, 9-2 Wonder Man, 11-2 Storm Alert, 13-2 Egypt Mill Prince & Waterloo Boy, 10-1 Viking Flagship.

(Photograph omitted)