Racing: No Soft option

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IRELAND'S challenge for the Cheltenham Festival weakened yesterday when leading novice chaser Soft Day was withdrawn from the Arkle Trophy, and Novello Allegro was pulled out of the Champion Hurdle.

Arthur Moore, the trainer of Soft Day, travelled from Dublin on Saturday evening, walked the course yesterday morning and decided not to risk Soft Day, a soft ground specialist.

Moore then reported back to Novello Allegro's trainer Noel Meade. 'He said the ground was what he would call perfect rather than firm. It is safe unless you have a horse that needs it soft like Soft Day,' Meade said. Novello Allegro's withdrawal was largely because he is off-colour. Charlie Swan, his rider, switches to Eyelid in the Champion Hurdle.

Twenty runners were declared yesterday for Thursday's Gold Cup. The Illywhacker, trained by Jenny Pitman and quoted at 66-1 on Saturday, was missing but the ranks of the outsiders are joined by Black Humour.

Black Humour was deleted from most bookmakers' lists two weeks ago after a virus hit Charlie Brooks' Lambourn yard. But the nine-year-old escaped the worst effects and pleased his trainer in a Saturday workout. His latest run was nine weeks ago, at Warwick over the Gold Cup distance, beating Bradbury Star by six lengths, at level weights. Graham Bradley, Black Humour's rider, insists his jumping has greatly improved and that he runs well when fresh.

A total of 43 four-year-olds were declared for Thursday's Triumph Hurdle, which is limited to 30 runners. Among those not declared were Martin Pipe's Lemon's Mill, an entry for the Supreme Novice Hurdle tomorrow, and Reg Akehurst's Dare To Dream.