Racing: Fame's renown spread by victory with authority: An exciting Irish bay strengthens his status as favourite for the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival

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The Independent Online
THE BEST performance by any hurdler this season in yesterday's Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown has propelled Fortune And Fame to short-priced favouritism for the Cheltenham original. In a season when so few hurdlers have impressed, his position at the head of the market is a worthy one.

Adrian Maguire had time to take a look over both shoulders as he eased down to the line on Fortune And Fame, but his tactics earlier in the race caused the winner's trainer, Dermot Weld, concern.

Swinging out of the back straight, with two flights still to jump, Maguire allowed Fortune And Fame to sweep through from the rear of the seven-runner field to join the leading rank. By the entrance to the straight he was in front, much too soon for Weld's liking, and sped clear.

Danoli stayed on best of the remainder, but Fortune And Fame's one-and-a-half-length winning margin flatters the runner-up as Maguire allowed the winner to coast home.

Shawiya, last year's Triumph Hurdle winner, plugged on for third, 10 lengths behind, but the really disappointing runners were Granville Again and Destriero.

Neither could match strides with the winner when the pace quickened and Granville Again, the reigning champion, was beaten a total of 16 1/2 lengths into fourth. Destriero, backed down to 11-2 third- favourite, was just behind, beating only Padashpan and another novice, the early pace- setter, Padre Mio.

'He looked impressive, but I was concerned Adrian had gone too soon,' Weld said. 'He'd gone about 25 rides without a win and he rode that way. When you're having a bad run you're looking for the winning post.'

Fortune And Fame, defeated only once in eight hurdle races, is likely to go straight to Cheltenham. 'There's still a couple of kilos to work on,' Weld said. 'I may have been a little easy on him because of his tendon problems.'

Granville Again is likely to be among his adversaries on 15 March. 'He won't run again before Cheltenham, but he'll be there,' Martin Pipe, his trainer, said.

Leopardstown's testing ground was certainly against Granville Again who travelled badly from Britain. But he lacked zest and Pipe will need to rekindle that as he did for last year's Festival.

Richard Dunwoody, Granville Again's rider, had other disappointments. While Maguire regained the winning thread, Dunwoody was 'severely cautioned' for excessive use of the whip on Ground War, runner-up in the opening handicap hurdle.

The bookmakers least impressed with Fortune And Fame's win were Coral, who quoted Weld's horse at 7-2 for Cheltenham immediately after the race. 'The fact that Danoli, a novice, got so close makes the form questionable,' the firm's Rob Hartnett said. It was an opinion not shared by punters and the 7-2 soon disappeared. Coral still go the top price of 11-4 while Ladbrokes are 2-1 about Fortune And Fame, who had been 5-1 yesterday morning.

In some eyes, Danoli will be as big a certainty in which ever of the novice hurdles he lines up for at the Festival. Representing the 12-horse stable of Tom Foley, Danoli will be back for Leopardstown's next card in a fortnight, when another of yesterday's winners, the Eddie O'Grady-trained Balawhar, will also be back.

Balawhar looked impressive when taking the four-year-old hurdle from Shirley's Delight but is likely to be kept for Aintree and Punchestown rather than head for the Triumph Hurdle.

Ladbrokes representative, Mike Dillon, believes Balawhar would be challenging for favouritism if he was allowed to go to Cheltenham, but in his probable absence keeps David Nicholson's Mysilv as favourite at 4-1.

Balawhar was a classy performer on the Flat for the Aga Khan and John Oxx but his owner now, the bookmaker Michael Tabor, has good reason not to risk the gelding in the rough and tumble of Cheltenham. He spent pounds 150,000 on the best bumper horse in Ireland last year, Dramatic Touch, but the horse was put down on Monday after fracturing a fibia without seeing a racecourse for his new owner.

One that is bound for the Festival is Atone, who followed up his success in the Ladbroke Hurdle two weeks ago with a victory over fences in the Arkle Challenge Cup.

A popular winner for his 67- year-old trainer, Bunny Cox, he has Cheltenham's Arkle Challenge Trophy as his target and showed a lot of speed to beat the Mouse Morris-trained Belvederian. The runner-up should not be written off, though, as he was conceding 8lb to Atone and was staying on well. The longer trip of the Festival's Sun Alliance chase should prove more suitable.

Another of yesterday's winners with a long-distance target is the O'Grady-trained High Peak, who won the Leopardstown Chase and has a Grand National, either Fairyhouse or Aintree, in his sights.

Adrian Maguire, who faces a Jockey Club inquiry later this week into his use of the whip on Ramstar at Warwick nine days ago, renews his partnership with the horse at Leicester this afternoon.

(Photograph omitted)