Racing: Past catches up with Alderbrook

RICHARD EDMONDSON NAP: Family Way (Leopardstown 2.35) NB: The Carrig Rua (Leopardstown 1.05)
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Racing lost one of its classiest and most versatile protagonists yesterday when Alderbrook was retired to stud. The eight-year-old, a Group winner on the Flat and the Champion Hurdler of 1995, has succumbed to the leg problems that have bedevilled the latter part of his career.

"Due to wear and tear on Alderbrook's joints, and due to the continuing firm ground, training has become very difficult and the horse is showing elements of pain as a result of his past injuries," Kim Bailey, his Upper Lambourn trainer, said yesterday. "After consultation with the vets and his owner, Ernie Pick, we have decided to retire the horse so that he can have a full stud career."

Alderbrook's retirement removes a degree of interest from the Champion Hurdle, as a rematch with Collier Bay, his Cheltenham conqueror last March, was to have been one of the centrepieces of the Festival. Collier Bay is now a 7-2 chance with the Tote for Cheltenham, with Large Action 7- 1 and Space Trucker a point longer.

If there is any proof required that the Almighty looks down kindly on the big bookmakers, it comes at Leopardstown this afternoon. Racing of real substance is offered to punters in the shape of the fiendishly difficult Ladbroke Hurdle, for which the big combines will virtually return their own prices. The old battle looks about as even as Tiananmen Square.

An "industry starting price" will be returned on the Ladbroke because there will be an on-course bookmakers' strike at Leopardstown today and thus no official starting prices. Ireland's boys with the satchels are protesting over plans to allow the Co Dublin course's betting shop to take bets on the home meeting, a move they suggest will damage their turnover.

A price will be generated though from analysis of wagers struck in Britain's betting shops, a position the bookmakers have been striving for for many years. "William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, Dennis, Stan James, Stanley and the Tote will feed prices in to SIS as business goes on," Tom Kelly, of the Betting Offices' Licensees Association, said yesterday. "Reporters from the Press Association and The Sporting Life, will return a price as they would on the course.''

Given the circumstances, it will take something approaching the water into wine phenomenon to make money. When Mike Dillon, Ladbrokes' main representative, suggested his company should take over the race, it was not with the intention of giving his clients a remunerative start to the New Year.

Barnbrook Again won the inaugural running for Britain in 1987, but the visitors have not registered since. Success usually goes to a low-weighted home runner stepping up on all previous form. Britain sends a force of seven this time, three of them trained by Mary Reveley, who believes Penny A Day is the best of her trio.

Penny A Day defends an unbeaten record this season, as does Centaur Express. Andy Streeter, his trainer, has never been beaten in Ireland, but then he has never been there at all. Streeter was formerly a stable lad, which may seem a strange occupation for someone who has grown to the slam-dunking height of 6ft 3in. From his Staffordshire base he now sends out a gelding who seems to be running just to give his 36 owners something to shout about. "We are dreaming about winning, but it is purely a dream," Streeter said of his former plater yesterday. "We just hope he can beat more than beat him.''

One horse who will almost certainly fall into the latter category is FAMILY WAY (nap 2.35). He made an encouraging reappearance at Fairyhouse and is on a low weight for a race which has not gone to a horse carrying more than 11st in the last six years. His connections are peerless as he is owned by J P McManus and trained by Arthur Moore, who has won the event five times previously.