Racing: Holly backers praying for rain

JUST because there is rain trickling down your window, there is no guarantee that something similar is happening at Cheltenham, but the home of jumps racing takes such a grip on punters' minds at this time of the year that it was no surprise yesterday to see ante-post money for French Holly, one of the more interesting contenders for the Champion Hurdle in just 13 days' time.

At any rate, Coral claim that punters wanted to back Ferdy Murphy's runner, although it may just be that their weather forecaster predicted rain for the next week or so and the bookmaker thought it wise to take evasive action. Whatever the reason, French Holly is now a 14-1 chance for the Champion, even though his participation depends not just on whether there is any natural watering of the course between now and the Festival, but probably on how much.

French Holly is an imposing specimen, and his trainer is convinced that his hurdles career is simply an appetiser before he moves on to the main course over fences. Murphy admits that it is a little frustrating to give the elements such a crucial role in the Festival decision making, although "having said that, you could give me three or four like him and I'd put up with that hardship any time."

Murphy insists that French Holly's Cheltenham target - the gelding is also engaged in both the Supreme and Royal & SunAlliance Novice Hurdles - must wait. "We're no further along," he says. "We said that if it came up heavy, he'd go for the Champion, and it's forecast for heavy rain over the next week. If he got soft ground, he'd have a serious chance, and since his last race he's been fantastic, we couldn't be more happy with him."

Meanwhile, at Portman Square yesterday, the Jockey Club concluded its deliberations on matters arising out of the Top Cees libel trial and decided not to re-open the case, following the award of pounds 195,000 in damages to Jack Ramsden, Lynda Ramsden and Kieren Fallon at the High Court last week.

The Club emphasised, however, that a new procedure to be introduced from the start of the Flat turf season will make it easier to re-open inquiries under Rule 151, which governs non-triers, and that offenders will risk stiffer penalties. The Club also said that it would continue to send private letters - described in the High Court as "yellow cards" - to individuals holding a licence to either train or ride.

"We considered fully whether these letters should be made public," Malcolm Wallace, the Club's director of regulation, said. "Having taken legal advice, we decided not to make the letters public, because to do so would be unfair when the person concerned has not been found in breach of any rule. These letters are intended to prevent breaches of the rules and are a part of an educational process aimed at maintaining and improving standards."

In a separate development, the Club's senior veterinarian disclosed that pre-race dope testing of runners is likely to be introduced as soon as technology allows. "There are some very strong arguments for testing runners before rather than after they race," Peter Webbon, the Club's chief veterinary advisor, said. "My personal view is that it is inevitable, when rather than if."

Webbon also revealed a change of emphasis for the Club's veterinary force in the field, with vets becoming much more concerned in future with the welfare of horses. "In the past, integrity was the top thing, but the view now is that racing welfare is at least as important, if not more so," Webbon said.

The conditional jockey Paul Midgley received a 10-day ban for reckless riding after his actions put a rival jockey on the floor at Catterick yesterday. In the bumper race, Midgley's mount Noshinannikin veered badly left, squeezing up Mazzelmo against the far rail. Mazzelmo's rider Seamus Durack clung desperately to his mount but fell to the ground 10 yards before Mazzelmo got to the line.

After an inquiry the stewards found that Midgley guilty of reckless riding. His ban runs from 12 to 14, 16 to 20, 21 and 23 March inclusive. Noshinannikin was placed last.

l The top chaser Dublin Flyer has been retired.

l Rain has put today's meeting at Chepstow in doubt. There is a 7.30 inspection.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?