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The Independent Online
BOOKMAKERS were running scared from a horse named Behrajan yesterday. The perception of cowardice would be enforced by hearing his trainer describe his charge as: ``A big, babyish, raw-boned brute. We can't work him with our decent horses at home because he'd just get left behind.''

But this four-year-old, whose owners include Lady Lloyd-Webber, is transformed when stepping onto the racecourse stage. He did it again at Warwick on Saturday when humbling a quality field of hurdlers. It was Behrajan's third impressive win.

Many Cheltenham entries get their ante-post odds cut sharply, but Behrajan gained the distinction yesterday of having his price slashed by William Hill for not one, but three, of the Festival's top events - the Triumph Hurdle (8-1 from 14-1), Supreme Novices' (10-1 from 16-1), and the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle (10-1 from 20-1).

Behrajan arrived at Henry Daly's stable near Ludlow last September as a cast-off, bought for a knock-down pounds 9,000 from the Aga Khan in France. Neither Lloyd-Webber nor any of the other five owners (imaginatively named ``The Behrajan Partnership'') bothered to turn up at Warwick to watch his jumps debut. But he won by 15 lengths, simultaneously bowing to the stands. At Sandown, next, he beat classier rivals.

A sole defeat, by 31/2 lengths, came at Cheltenham three weeks ago against Hors La Loi III - the Triumph Hurdle favourite until his owner, Paul Green, cast doubt on participation at the weekend. ``I've always regarded the Triumph as a graveyard,'' Green said.

Daly is also cautious about the risks of a race notoriously exhausting for young talent. But with Hors La Loi possibly out of the picture, a soft-ground Triumph (2m, 18 March) could yet prove tempting. Alternatively, the 2m5f SunAlliance could bring out the best in Behrajan. Perhaps significantly, Ladbrokes are quoting Behrajan only for the longer race (10-1 from 16- 1).

``Behrajan has certainly got an engine,'' Daly said yesterday. ``But he's still backward. We'll have to see about Cheltenham. We don't want to get this wrong."

With doubts over when and where the horse will run, a bet now looks unwise. But . . . both Ladbrokes and Hills are offering non-runner-money-back terms for Cheltenham Festival multiple bets (doubles and upwards). This offer could be exploited by linking Behrajan at 10-1 for the SunAlliance, or 8-1 for the Triumph, in a win double with - for instance - Istabraq at 4-7 in the Champion Hurdle.