Racing: Oh so close for Elsworth

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OH SO RISKY became favourite for the Champion Hurdle despite defeat in the Tote Gold Trophy Handicap Hurdle here yesterday. The seven-year-old, having his first run over hurdles since Cheltenham last March, ran a blinder in failing by a short-head to concede 20lb to Large Action in a tremendous finish.

Both winner and loser came out of the race with enormous credit. Large Action - a gelding who, when the season started, had not won a race over hurdles - was taking on his seniors for the first time and Oh So Risky, with 12 stone on his back, nearly beat Persian War's 1968 record-weight win.

Oh So Risky jumped off gently behind the other runners and was not sighted until the closing stages, but Large Action was up with the pace - moderate early on - the whole way and jumped really well. His trainer, Oliver Sherwood, was understandably delighted with the man in the saddle, Jamie Osborne.

He said: 'The horse normally prefers to come from behind, so for him he did it the hard way. But there was no pace on and we know he stays. It was just such a wonderful, positive ride.'

The 11 runners were still well bunched on the turn into the straight but, over the last two hurdles, Paul Holley brought Oh So Risky smoothly to the front rank, still on the bridle.

The David Elsworth-trained gelding went a neck ahead half-way up the run-in, but, with a target to aim at, Large Action rallied again and thrust his nose in front when it mattered.

Oh So Risky has not actually won over hurdles since taking the 1991 Triumph Hurdle - though he scored on the Flat last year - but Ladbrokes reacted by making him their new 3-1 favourite - from 6-1 - for the Champion Hurdle and easing the Irish contender Fortune And Fame to 7-2 from 2-1. Coral took a less extreme view, with Fortune And Fame at 5-2 and Oh So Risky cut from 7-1 to 9-2.

Elsworth, though he was as pleased as a trainer can be after losing a pounds 25,000 prize by a short-head, did not get carried away afterwards. 'It was very reassuring to see him run as well as this, especially on soft ground, and on the evidence he must have a good chance at Cheltenham,' he said. 'We know we have a good horse, but we also need luck.'

Large Action is also Cheltenham-bound, his likely target the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs. Sherwood said: 'He's in the Champion, but I'd rather win the novice race than finish third in the other.'

Adrian Maguire made it two out of two on Viking Flagship in the Game Spirit Chase and, after Waterloo Boy's back- to-back victories, three out of three for trainer David Nicholson in the prestigious contest. Maguire's double brought his seasonal total to 120, but Richard Dunwoody, seven behind at the start of the day, reduced the gap to five with a four-timer at Uttoxeter.

In the Game Spirit, all five runners were in the air together three out, but by the last the early leader, Egypt Mill Prince, and Deep Sensation had been dropped. Viking Flagship, revelling in the ground, had too many guns for his stable-mate, Wonder Man, and Sybillin.

The winner's participation in the big one for two-mile chasers, the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, will depend on conditions. Nicholson said: 'He will not run on fast ground, but Wonder Man loves it fast. Aren't we lucky to have two good two- mile chasers?'

More Festival questions may be answered in Ireland today, where Gold Cup favourite Jodami faces six rivals in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Although Peter Beaumont's chaser has done little seriously wrong this season, he has hardly sparkled and has maintained his position at the head of the Gold Cup betting by default, as potential rivals have failed to impress. An uninspiring display today may produce another betting shake-up.

Ladbrokes have Jodami (6-4) and his fellow English raider, Chatam (5-2), at the head of today's market. The pair were split by a head when Jodami won the race last year.

Beaumont admits he has left a little to work on, with his eye on a repeat at Cheltenham, but Pipe is very pleased with Chatam since his good reappearance at Warwick last month. Neither chaser will relish the ground at Leopardstown, which is heavy after rain and a lot of recent use.

Flashing Steel's participation in the race still hangs in the balance according to trainer John Mulhern. 'I will walk the track before finally making up my mind about Flashing Steel. The ground is terrible in my opinion and there are not two big races in Flashing Steel - tomorrow and Cheltenham,' Mulhern said yesterday.

(Photograph omitted)