Racing: Swan has dispensation to attend Court

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The Independent Online
The favourite for Saturday's big race has at last got a rider. Richard Edmondson reports.

Considering just about every other jockey in the British archipelago had been connected with Commanche Court, the favourite to keep Leopardstown's Ladbroke Hurdle at home on Saturday, it may have been inevitable that the ride would ultimately go to Ireland's perpetual champion jockey.

Norman Williamson and Ruby Walsh, the son of Commanche Court's trainer, Ted, have ridden the gelding but both are in the sin bin. The claimer Garrett Cotter then became a consideration, though he too would have missed the ride if Sandown's meeting was called off, thus liberating Tony McCoy.

All this uncertainty was too much for Charlie Swan, who was due to partner Aidan O'Brien's Toast The Spreece. He asked the trainer and owners of the horse for dispensation to desert their representative and got the same pleasing response when he tried his telephone manner on Ted Walsh. "I contacted Ted late last night and he came back to say that would be fine," Swan said yesterday. "I've ridden a few winners for him but I've never ridden Commanche Court.

"He has an outstanding chance, will go on the ground and is in good form. I've been second in the race for my father and ridden a third. I was meant to ride Atone but took something else and I hope I've got it right this time. The ground will be against Toast The Spreece. I'm very grateful to the owners and Aidan for letting me off."

This is not to say that Swan has automatically jumped not only on to a favourite but also into the winners' enclosure. There is a chance element in every race, but while an average contest is of roulette proportions, the Ladbroke is more like the National Lottery.

The balls go into the tank at the final turn on Leopardstown's inside track. Jockeys then have to launch their mounts into a melee of limbs and backsides. Where they stop nobody knows.

This is consequently a scramble which is not conducive to short-priced winners. Five of the last eight victors have started at 20-1 or more. Only one winner this decade, The Illiad in 1991, justified single-figure odds.

Saturday's card is expected to be the first in Ireland when the overnight declaration of jockeys is in operation. It is anticipated it will go ahead despite the going being heavy, with more rain to come. But then this is Ireland, where meetings are called off only after clerks of the course go out in punts and lose their pole.

One entry unlikely to be surfing through the mud is the well-backed Fishin Joella, who had been reduced to as low as 11-1 from Monday's price of 33-1. Noel Meade's mare has damaged a hind leg.

Some satchels then already have a note lining, though one firm will return stakes on non-runners placed after Monday's forfeit stage. Ladbroke's munificence is well known at this contest, where their largesse to friends and publicists is not necessarily commensurate with that which they show the general public for the rest of the year. The shining knights are now handing back funds to ante-post punters. Whatever can have brought this immense generosity on?

George Akins, an independent bookmaker, has offered 1-3 that Ladbroke's takeover of Coral will win Government backing and go 9-4 that it will not. Its market formers note that Ladbroke's shares have risen since the deal was mooted.