Racing: Painful exit for Princeful

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FOR ALL of four minutes at Doncaster yesterday afternoon, Princeful did as much as anyone could expect of a leading hurdler who was embarking on his first adventure over fences. But any long-term planning is tempting fate where steeplechasers are concerned, and his luck ran out at the seventh fence from home, where Princeful not only unseated Richard Dunwoody, but also sustained an injury which may keep him off the track for the remainder of the season.

Dunwoody and Princeful parted company when they were hampered by the fall of Optimism Reigns, perhaps the most appropriately named novice chaser in training. "He was definitely brought down," the jockey said. "He did jump a little left at the fence but then the other one came right across him and he had no chance."

Although Princeful galloped on riderless, he was found to be lame after passing the post. "The horse was not sound when he came back," Peter Green, the racecourse vet, said. "He has an injury to his near-hind which has been splinted, and he's been sent off for X-rays and scans. He's been given medication and is quite well able to travel. He's comfortable and the limb is quite well-supported, but there's no diagnosis at this stage."

Speaking from her stable in Lambourn, Jenny Pitman, Princeful's trainer, said that "it looks like he's sprained a joint". If confirmed, the injury could rule Princeful out for the remainder of the season, and would also be a considerable setback to any plans for a run in the Gold Cup in 2000.

Dunwoody too suffered in the fall when he aggravated an old neck injury, forcing him to give up his ride in the final race.

Whatever the results of Princeful's scans, it seems highly unlikely that he will be back at Cheltenham in March to defend the stayers' hurdling championship he claimed last year. His name is among the 51 entries for the race which were published yesterday, but nowhere to be seen in the prices issued by Coral and Hills yesterday.

Instead, it is Martin Pipe's Deano's Beeno, narrowly beaten by Princeful in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last time out, and Lady Rebecca (Venetia Williams) who are vying for favouritism, with Coral preferring the former and William Hill the latter.

"Lady Rebecca has been a gallant little mare this season and her rate of improvement has been fantastic," David Hood, Hill's spokesman, said. "She has shown her liking for Cheltenham and although she stays very well, she has shown enough pace for the Champion Hurdle to have been a consideration at one stage."

The leading Irish challenger for the race appears to be Commanche Court, winner of the Triumph Hurdle in 1997, at 8-1, while Splendid Thyne, runner- up to Princeful 10 months ago, is a 14-1 chance.

The bookies' interest in the Stayers' Hurdle is possibly due at least in part to the stagnation of the market for the Champion Hurdle. Istabraq, the defending champion, is such a hot favourite to retain his crown that few punters are interested in opposing him, but the thought of two months' spent worrying about the possibility of injury is enough to put them off supporting him too.

The state of his health should become clear this weekend, when Istabraq will face a maximum of seven rivals in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, a race he won last year. His most notable opponents seem likely to be French Holly, trained by Ferdy Murphy, and his stablemate at Aidan O'Brien's yard, Theatreworld. Zafarabad, trained by David Nicholson, is another definite runner, while Commanche Court is among the remaining entries.

BETTING Stayers' Hurdle (Cheltenham, 18 March): Coral: 4-1 Deano's Beeno, 5-1 Lady Rebecca, 6-1 Commanche Court, 8-1 Le Coudray, 10-1 Splendid Thyne, 12-1 Marello, 14-1 Gris D'Estruval, 16-1 Juyush, Bellator, Stretarez, Pridwell, 20-1 others. William Hill: 9-2 Lady Rebecca, 5-1 Deano's Beeno, 8-1 Commanche Court, 9-1 Marello, 10-1 Le Coudray, 12-1 Grey Shot, 14- 1 Gris D'Estruval, Juyush, Pridwell, Splendid Thyne, 20-1 Archive Footage, Barton, Bellator, Paddy's Return, Silver Wedge, Stretarez, 25-1 Brave Tornado, Cyborgo, Mister Morose, Moorish, Mr Percy, Torboy, 33-1 others.


Nap: Three Saints

(Southwell 1.00)

NB: Coolteen Hero

(Southwell 2.00)