Racing: Furlong's pair out of Festival

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The Independent Online
IF THE Irish have a successor to Dawn Run and Monksfield for this year's Champion Hurdle, it will not come from the yard of Noel Furlong. The man who brought off such a spectacular gamble in the opening event of the 1991 Festival has not been able to get his winner then, Destriero, ready in time. Ireland's representation in the race is now reduced to a maximum of four, of which only two are certain starters.

Destriero lost his chance to go to Cheltenham in the workplace, after failing to sparkle in a recent gallop, and much hinges on how things go on another excursion to the schooling grounds today by Dermot Weld's Vintage Crop.

There was more support for the Cesarewitch winner with William Hill yesterday for the Champion and he is now 10-1 from 11-1. Those odds will look rather ridiculous if he cannot come through today's test of both his hurdling and his ability to remain injury free.

Without Vintage Crop, Ireland's challenge for the hurdling crown looks particularly flimsy. Chirkpar, another entry, is more likely to run in the Stayers' Hurdle and that leaves just Novello Allegro and Eyelid. Furlong is also likely to withdraw The Illiad from the County Hurdle to further deplete the Irish team.

Steve Smith Eccles, who last week lost the Champion Hurdle ride on Staunch Friend after a dispute with the gelding's trainer, Mark Tompkins, now finds himself in demand by both Martin Pipe and David Elsworth

'I've been offered the ride on Granville Again if Peter Scudamore goes for Valfinet,' Smith Eccles said. 'And I'm also mentioned in dispatches for Muse.'

Graham McCourt, who partnered Royal Gait to victory last year, has been booked to ride 66-1 shot Duke Of Monmouth.

With the likelihood of fast ground, ante-post betting on Cheltenham's championship races is beginning to take a different shape. In the Gold Cup, Another Coral's odds shortened to 25-1 from 33-1 and Cahervillahow's to 50-1 from 66-1. But mud-loving Sibton Abbey, Smith Eccles's mount, is 25-1 from 20-1, and last year's Gold Cup winner Cool Ground 40-1 from 33-1.

In the Grand National, confirmation that the impressive Racing Post Chase winner, Zeta's Lad, will replace his injured stable-mate, Nick The Brief, in the line-up prompted Ladbrokes to remove their 'with a run' stipulation. He is now the 8-1 favourite ahead of Party Politics on 10-1.

Christine Hollinshead, wife of the Staffordshire trainer Reg Hollinshead, has died after a long illness. She was 67.

Armiger, the Henry Cecil-trained favourite for the Derby and the top-rated two-year-old colt in Britain last year, is suffering muscle spasms in his back. His condition is, reportedly, not giving cause for concern. Grant Pritchard-Gordon, racing manager to the colt's owner, Khalid Abdullah, said yesterday: 'It is not a setback. If a top athlete suffers a slight twinge, it is not usually reported. We are talking about the same thing with Armiger.'