Racing: Stable keep the faith with Halkopous: A reading taken from the turf's good book may point the way to Champion Hurdle salvation for doubting punters

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HOW FORGETFUL punters can be, and how fickle. To many, a horse is only as good as its last race. Two disappointments in a row, and it's clearly 'gone'. That is, until it returns to form, and the same punters grumble that it was staring them in the face all the time.

The moans will become a despairing wail if Halkopous wins the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham a week today, since the form which proves the strength of his chance is already in the book. Halkopous finished three lengths ahead of Fortune And Fame, the ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite, in the two-mile novice hurdle at the 1992 Festival. And when coming home an excellent third on unsuitably fast ground in last year's Champion, Halkopous had Oh So Risky, Flakey Dove and Morley Street five lengths and more behind.

And yet Mark Tompkins's gelding is available at 8-1. For a reason, look no further than his poor run in Kempton's Christmas Hurdle last time out. Excuse that disappointment, and Halkopous should perhaps be jostling for favouritism.

Phil Green, spokesman for Tompkins's stable, dismisses the Kempton form. 'Halkopous was cut badly when another horse jumped into him, and anyway he's a much better horse going left-handed,' he said yesterday, 'He's taken time to recover, but you can be sure that he'll be trained to the minute for the Champion.

'You don't know how good Fortune And Fame is, but our horse beat him two years ago and he's progressed since, as he showed with his run in the Champion last year. Fortune And Fame would need to have improved tremendously to have improved past Halkopous.'

The Tompkins runner will have the considerable assistance of Declan Murphy, but riding arrangements for some of his rivals remain hazy. Richard Price, in particular, has had trouble finding a partner for Flakey Dove, now as low as 12-1 for Cheltenham after Saturday's Berkshire Hurdle win.

Norman Williamson, Price's choice to replace Richard Dunwoody, the mare's regular rider, picked up a suspension covering the Festival on Saturday. Should his appeal against the ban fail, Price said yesterday that he will book Mark Dwyer instead.

Williamson certainly deserves a change of luck. He looked the certain winner as he jumped the last on Captain Frisk in the handicap chase at Windsor yesterday, but his mount started to hang and could only dead- heat with Warner For Winners.

The latter's jockey, Peter Hobbs, objected that Captain Frisk had taken his ground on the run-in and the stewards agreed, awarding him the race outright. Intriguingly, it was the second successive year that the race had resulted in a dead heat, which is surely unprecedented for a three-and-a-half mile chase, while Williamson was one of the duelling riders 12 months ago too.

Captain Frisk's demotion mattered little to Kim Bailey when set beside the loss of two of his runners at Doncaster. Coq Hardi Smokey, a novice chaser, and stable veteran Man O'Magic were both destroyed after falls at Town Moor.

Adrian Maguire rode a treble at Doncaster to move five clear of Richard Dunwoody in the jump jockeys' championship. In the Flat equivalent, Lanfranco Dettori rode his 50th winner of the season at Wolverhampton, and only an injury or three-month suspension, can prevent him being crowned champion on 31 December.

As for Dwyer, his most important engagement is with Jodami in the Gold Cup. The gelding's trainer, Peter Beaumont, said yesterday that the champion chaser is 'as good as he was last year, and possibly a little stronger.' Nor is Beaumont tiring of the attention which his small Yorkshire stable is attracting. 'There's a bit of pressure but it's nice to have it,' he said. 'You don't get it for a bad one.'

(Photograph omitted)