Racing: Heavyweight performance from Istabraq

ISTABRAQ HARDLY broke out of a canter to win a three-runner race at odds of 1-10 at Leopardstown yesterday and is on course to defend the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. His next run will be in the AIG Europe Hurdle at the Dublin track next month.

"He did it well, particularly as he's the heaviest he has ever been in his life here today," Aidan O'Brien, his trainer, said.

Charlie Swan, his regular partner, was delighted with the exercise workout to claim the pounds 13,750 prize. "I loved the way he settled and although he was a bit long at the last and gave me a bit of a fright he is in great form," Swan reported.

Quizzed about the impressive Christmas Hurdle win of French Holly at Kempton, O'Brien said: "He was impressive as well. I believe he may be coming for the AIG Europe Hurdle, but I wouldn't mind if he stayed at home."

The favourite for French Holly's Kempton race, Dato Star, was nursing his bruised reputation yesterday but his trainer, Malcolm Jefferson, remained positive. "I'm not frightened of anything and he'll definitely run in the Champion Hurdle but I don't think I'll run him before then," he said.

"He's had a busy time of it recently and we've run him three times on the Flat and three times over hurdles. We may have gone to the well too often and I think its time to give the horse a rest."

Also taking a rest is French Holly's rider, Andrew Thornton, as a bout of flu has led to an infection in his left leg. Thornton rode Polar Champ to finish second in the opener at Taunton yesterday, before calling a halt to his afternoon's activity.

"In hindsight, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to ride," he admitted. "But I was on a bit of a high from my four-timer and was quite fired up. I have had a bit of flu and the leg which I broke last year has become infected. If I take some antibiotics, it may calm it."

n Tommy Stack was reported "comfortable and stable" in hospital yesterday where he is being treated for a viral infection which has left him seriously ill.

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