RACING : Large back in the big league

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The Independent Online
As promised, it was a weekend that prompted bunting to be twirled around the telegraph poles of Upper Lambourn. Yet the returning hero to Berkshire was not, as expected, Alderbrook (who was withdrawn from Saturday's Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle), but an animal who has advertised his presence as often as Salman Rushdie over the past 12 months.

Large Action, who already has two placed efforts in the Champion Hurdle brightening his logbook, demonstrated that a protracted absence has not dimmed his powers when collecting the Hatton's Grace Hurdle here yesterday.

It was his first competitive exercise since damaging a suspensory ligament at Ascot this time last year and Large Action looks rather different these days, his frame a chunkier and more rounded shape than the spidery chassis of old. Crucially, this housing still holds a snarling appetite. "He's thickened out and when I looked at him in the paddock I thought he looked so fat compared to the other horses," Oliver Sherwood, the gelding's trainer, said. "But, like some of us, he's always going to look big.

"The vibes were right, he's been working really professionally and he's done well physically during his year off, but you're never sure if the speed is still there. But I think we can say he is back. And the competitiveness is still there. Sometimes when they're off for a while they lose that. I'm chuffed to bits."

Large Action's comprehensive display in the hands of Jamie Osborne returned fire for Britain after Space Trucker had travelled the other direction over the Irish Sea to capture the Fighting Fifth. Both their prices for Cheltenham tumbled dramatically and Large Action is now as short as 5- 1 for hurdling's crown with Ladbrokes. Whether that displays any sort of value will next be uncovered in the Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Dorans Pride will also be a short price for the Festival once bookmakers have discovered which event he will be tackling. The seven-year-old stayed on relentlessly to win the Drinmore Novices' Chase, another Grade One event, without doing much to clarify his future. The Sun Alliance Chase would appear the obvious target but that is not a race which sets the heart of his trainer, Michael Hourigan, singing. The Gold Cup is a possibility, if only a slight one, and it may be that Dorans Pride will revert to the smaller obstacles for the Stayers' Hurdle. "We're not that anxious about the Sun Alliance at the moment," Hourigan said. "You get a lot of casualties in it and if you're not handy, it can be a terrible race. And the Gold Cup might be putting him in at the deep end. He could win a Gold Cup one day but I wouldn't be that keen this season."

The notable casualty in this contest was Danoli, who slithered to a halt after losing an argument with the third fence. Ireland has lost several of its leading players already this season - Ventana Canyon, Life Of A Lord, Hotel Minella and Dance Beat are no longer with us - and there was palpable relief when the most venerated runner in the land got back on his feet. He was later schooled over nine fences.

That left Paul Nicholls's See More Business as Dorans Pride's chief irritant, but it became apparent that his unbeaten record under Rules was about to disappear when Richard Dunwoody asked Dorans Pride to accelerate after the last. "I think he's a serious horse and I'm not too disappointed, but when you come this far you like to win," Nicholls said.

There was a long journey, too, yesterday for Walter Dennis, who trundled his horsebox the four hours back to Bude in Cornwall from Newbury with little more for company than the Hennessy Gold Cup and Coome Hill, the horse that won it for him on Saturday. The former point-to-pointer, is now favourite for the Grand National and William Hill suggest he might even make a Gold Cup horse and quote him at 20-1 for the Blue Riband.

If he does make it to Cheltenham, Coome Hill will again cause much consternation in the Dennis household. "My mother was very nervous," Tim, the trainer's son, said. "I have never seen her pay so many visits to the toilet before a race."

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