Racing: Humour passes audition

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BLACK HUMOUR is back on course for Cheltenham after winning the Fairlawne Chase here yesterday by a distance. The Gold Cup dress rehearsal for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's chaser was satisfactory rather than brilliant, but at least now the performance will take place.

The classy 10-year-old's season started full of promise, but has been blighted by injury and illness. And his owner's luck has been out; Lloyd Webber and his wife, Madeleine, a former international event rider, have lost two horses in action. But, to the relief of all, the corner now seems to have been turned.

The rehabilitation of Black Humour has been a team effort. His trainer, Charlie Brooks, turned to another equestrian world for help, sending Black Humour back to school with the eventing gurus Yogi Breisner and Andrew Hoy. Brooks said: 'When the horse missed the cross fence out in the Hennessy it not only hurt him but shattered his confidence as well. Yogi and Andrew have worked tirelessly with him, right up to the day before this race, indoors and outdoors, to get his jumping right.'

Black Humour led throughout yesterday's contest, dropping the favourite Zeta's Lad once the race began in earnest four out. He ran left down the last fence, but by then the challenge from his two rivals (Toby Tobias was withdrawn because of the heavy ground) had evaporated. Brooks is convinced, though, that the horse's programme is open to further fine- tuning. 'He still tends to drop his left shoulder, which means he can't make the correct rounded shape over his fences,' Brooks said, 'He'll be going straight back over show jumps this week.'

Brooks, who also had a winner on the Flat at Lingfield, was mightily relieved Black Humour showed no sign of the internal bleeding which affected him on his previous run, in the King George. He said: 'He had the virus on him then, and we walked him for six weeks afterwards and we waited.'

Hills have reduced Black Humour's Gold Cup odds to 25-1 from 33-1. Lady Lloyd Webber is perfectly happy holding a bet on her pet at 66-1.

The expected duel at Nottingham between the Arkle Trophy fancies Native Mission and Current Express in the Michael Seely Nottinghamshire Novices' Chase came to nothing when Country Lad got the better of Front Line.

Current Express had taken the lead from the awkward- jumping ex-pointing mare Hops and Pops at the third-last, but a blunder at the penultimate fence almost stopped him in his tracks and, though he still led at the last, he made another mistake and finished like a horse who was in pain.

On the run-in the big Country Lad showed too much determination for Front Line. Country Lad is 10-1 with Hills for the Arkle with the Irish- trained Atone, who runs at Punchestown today, their 7-4 favourite.