RACING Maguire to miss Champion Hurdle

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Ireland's favourite riding son in Britain, Adrian Maguire, will miss the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival today. While many of his countrymen have been streaming over the Irish Sea to National Hunt racing's most celebrated meeting, Maguire has

made the reverse journey to attend the funeral of his mother, Phyllis, who died over the weekend.

The Irishman had been due to ride several fancied horses this afternoon, but Relkeel, perhaps the best of his book, will not be running in the Champion Hurdle anyway, as he is injured. The absence of the grey, who had won all five of his starts this

season, further steals romance from the card as he was to have been met in the parade ring by his 94-year- old owner and breeder, Brigadier Roscoe Harvey.

The removal of horse and jockey from calculations was a dual setback for the champion trainer David Nicholson, the man behind Relkeel and Maguire's main patron. Nicholson is no stranger to late disappointment, as his Barton Bank burst a blood vessela week before the Gold Cup 12 months ago.

"I'm very sorry Relkeel can't run in the Champion Hurdle," the trainer said yesterday. "He has slight heat in an off-fore tendon. He is too good a horse to risk. I feel very sorry for all, especially the Brig."

A decision on whether Maguire will return for the rest of the Festival (to take up rides including Viking Flagship, who defends his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown tomorrow, and Barton Bank in Thursday's Gold Cup) will come today.

With Relkeel absent, three horses dominate an open Champion Hurdle market. William Hill have Danoli at the top of their list, while Ladbrokes couple the Irish horse with Large Action on 4-1. Coral also have no outright favourite, bracketing Large Action and Alderbrook, a horse who has run over hurdles just twice in his life and once this year, on 7-2.

David Elsworth, Desert Orchid's trainer, yesterday finalised riding plans when his stable jockey, Paul Holley, chose Atours ahead of the grey mare Absalom's Lady. "Paul has always tended to swing towards Atours but it has been a big decision for himto make," Elsworth said. "It's like playing spoof." Now he knows how many punters will feel this week.

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