RACING: Fervour for the small fellow

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The ideal location for relaxation in mid-March has been established. For those who require peace and quiet there will be no better destination than Bagenalstown in Co Carlow.

Holidaymakers had better take their own provisions (our burglar readers can pack their jemmies) as the Irish town will be virtually deserted when the community decamps to support the local horse, Danoli, in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

On Saturday, Tom Foley's gelding mobilised a crowd of unusual proportions to descend on Gowran Park, a course which may be in the next county, but is the closest he has ever been to home when competing.

Those who had heard of him only in the local pub and at the post office swelled the attendance. "Everyone turned out," Foley said yesterday. "There's an awful lot of local people living within three miles of us and had never seen the horse who came. They were people who had never been to a race meeting in their lives but just happened to see the horse running on television. They'd seen the receptions before and they wanted to be part of it."

They ended up as delighted members of a huge congregation celebrating Danoli's eight-length victory, his first since injuring a leg at Liverpool last year.

"No-one gave us one little piece of help and we had to do the donkey- work all the way through the race," Foley said. "So I'm delighted. Four furlongs out he got a bit lonely and waited, but when they started making ground on him he decided he'd better go on again."

The Bagenalstown travel agent will be the happiest man in the whole of Ireland this morning, and, in economic terms, the milliners of Cheltenham will hardly be cursing either. "If Danoli wins at the Festival I shouldn't have thought a few people would mind losing their hats," Foley said.

"There's not a bother on him this morning and we'll do some good fast work now to sharpen him up a bit. We'll be doing some sprint work and, if everything goes right, we might send him up a hill after the first week."

The trainer thinks he understands the adulation that follows his horse, the sort of fervour that persuaded course officials he should re-enter the parade ring for a further round of applause. "He's a horse who always gives 110 per cent and he's already been written off from even coming back to the racecourse again," Foley said. "People like to club in with the small fellow."

Foley may be a small trainer but he is a big man. There are plenty of people who train horses who think they are saving the world rather than preparing beasts to run round a field. Many have become tainted by achieving far less success than Tom Foley, who is as much part of the Danoli romance as the gelding himself.

Foley is not interested in the trinkets of fame: the flash cars or reservations in swanky hotels that others of his trade indulge in. Indeed, come Cheltenham, the trainer will reside in the same place as he has done for the last two years, the stable lads' hostel, so he can be near his horse.

Danoli is 5-1 second favourite with Hills and Coral for the Champion Hurdle behind Alderbrook, who worked very well in unusual circumstances yesterday morning.

The horse was meant to be partnered in his work by Graham Bradley, who was expected to ride the seven-year-old in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Thursday. By mid-morning, though, Kim Bailey, Alderbrook's trainer, realised the electricity supply to his doorbell had not been cut off, and that Bradley had simply not appeared. This seemed to put Bailey in ill-humour. "Alderbrook schooled very well this morning, ridden by Jimmy McCarthy, because Graham Bradley didn't turn up," he said.

The Kingwell lost some of its interest when it was announced yesterday that David Elsworth's Atours would miss the race. The gelding, like Danoli's fellow Irish horses Montelado and Fortune And Fame, is now doubtful for the Festival.

"Atours injured himself at exercise this morning," reported Elsworth. "He is lame and had all the symptoms of a split pastern, but he has been x-rayed and there is no fracture. But let's just say that it is not good."