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RACING Swan flies in but still sits on the fence

With the weather closing in fast on racing yesterday, the flying visit to Britain of Charlie Swan switched minds to the warming thought of impending championship races in which Ireland's outstanding rider looks sure to play a major part.

Wincanton, where Swan deputised for Richard Dunwoody on four Martin Pipe-trained runners, was the sole turf meeting to survive the elements. Huntingdon's card was rained off and today's meetings at Folkestone and Doncaster, where snow is the problem, quickly followed.

Even today's all-weather card at Southwell did not emerge unscathed. The Nottinghamshire track is raceable but the stables and car parks are flooded, so the meeting has been transferred to the owners' other Fibresand track at Wolverhampton.

The switch emphasises the new-found flexibility of racing's administrators and will save more than £100,000 in Levy money, but may have come too late for the West Midlands track to attract much of an attendance. Even the local evening newspaper, the Wolverhampton Express & Star, billed the meeting's location as Southwell in their final edition.

Despite severe conditions across the country, officials at tomorrow's televised meetings, Ayr and Cheltenham, are confident of racing taking place, but Uttoxeter has already been abandoned.

In Ireland, the Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown is in grave danger of abandonment for the second successive Sunday, but may be switched to Fairyhouse the same day.

That move would enable Dermot Weld to give Fortune And Fame a much needed re-introduction to the racecourse before the real thing at Cheltenham and allow Swan an opportunity to size up the opposition.

Ireland's champion jockey is the regular partner of his country's leading Champion hope, Danoli, but has also been linked with another long-term absentee, Montelado.

"I spoke to Danoli's trainer, Tom Foley, the other day," Swan said, "and he said that the horse was back in classic form and will run in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park on 18 February."

Montelado, whose latest affliction after nearly two years off the track is a common cold, is nevertheless on the way back. "He schooled and jumped well a week ago but he would want fast ground," Swan said.

Asked if he had decided which was he would partner at Cheltenham, Swan said: "I'll sit on the fence a little longer."

A more immediate intention is to capitalise on Dunwoody's absence. "As we race only on Thursdays and weekends in Ireland, I hope I'll be coming over here as long as everything goes OK this afternoon," he said.

Everything could have gone better from that point, on what Swan described as "a nice fast track". Too fast a track for Swan's mounts. None of the four, including two short-priced favourites, managed to win.