Racing: Fame is the spur for Irish hopes: Champion Hurdle betting now favours Weld's Fortune. Greg Wood reports

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The Independent Online
THE foundations of order were laid in the chaos of the Champion Hurdle market yesterday when Fortune And Fame won the Bookmakers Hurdle at Leopardstown on his first visit to a racecourse for 20 months. The only worry about his two-length defeat of Padashpan was that it was simply too convenient.

Fortune And Fame's win clicked almost audibly because he is owned by Michael Smurfit, in whose colours Vintage Crop won the Melbourne Cup in November. The possibility that Vintage Crop would line up for the Champion - which Smurfit sponsors - has been an irritant ever since: not sufficiently probable to justify serious backing, but plausible enough to deter support for anything else. Smurfit now appears to have an able substitute.

Fortune And Fame is trained, like Vintage Crop, by Dermot Weld and his success in yesterday's Grade One event after such a prolonged absence was further evidence of Weld's exceptional ability. His gelding was winning for the sixth time in seven starts, his only defeat coming in the Supreme Novice Hurdle at the 1992 Festival. Seven weeks later, Fortune And Fame went to Punchestown and beat a field which included Tuesday's Christmas Hurdle winner, Muse, in the Champion Novice Hurdle, but a tendon injury prevented him making any further entries in the form book.

Clumsy jumps at the early obstacles betrayed Fortune And Fame's lack of practice yesterday, but when a perfectly judged leap at the last secured his victory it was as if he had never been away. 'I was worried that the heavy ground would count against him after a 20-month absence,' Weld said, 'but he's done it well.' The trainer has just one more race in mind for Fortune And Fame before the Festival, the AIG Champion Hurdle, again at Leopardstown on 23 January.

Fortune And Fame is now Coral's 7-1 favourite (from 16-1) for Cheltenham, while Ladbrokes show 8-1. The latter firm then offers: 10-1 Granville Again and Oh So Risky, 12-1 Staunch Friend, Roll A Dollar, Tiananmen Square and Shawiya, 16-1 Bold Boss, Halkopous, Spinning, Muse and Destriero, 20-1 bar.

Two names emerge: David Elsworth, who trains Roll A Dollar, Muse and Oh So Risky, and Ireland. Fortune And Fame's fellow travellers in March could include last year's Triumph Hurdle winner, Shawiya, the heavily touted Tiananmen Square and the 1992 Supreme Novice Hurdle winner, Destriero.

And we should not forget Montelado, winner of that race last year; perhaps not until this afternoon, anyway. A scan on Montelado's leg at Pat Flynn's yard this morning should show whether the gelding will be fit in time for the Festival.

Dawn Run was the last Irish-trained winner of both the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup. In the premier chase, too, they may now have a credible challenger. Flashing Steel, a close second to Deep Bramble at Leopardstown on Tuesday, has come out of the race well and will attempt to sustain his championship hopes in the Hennessy (Irish) Gold Cup on 6 February.

(Photograph omitted)