Racing: Weights rise may stop Crop: Richard Edmondson on a dilemma confronting the trainer of a top contender for the Ladbroke Hurdle

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The Independent Online
Bitofabanter was yesterday installed as 8-1 favourite for the Ladbroke Hurdle at Leopardstown next month, but all the talk was about the participation of hurdling's most promising newcomer, Vintage Crop.

From the moment Dermot Weld's gelding won the Cesarewitch at Newmarket last October his reappearance on the National Hunt stage has been keenly awaited. Whether the drum roll will finally stop on 9 January is now dependent on three factors: weight, weather and well-being.

Following the publication of the Ladbroke weights yesterday (when Vintage Crop was allotted 10st 6lb), Weld said: 'I will make a decision one week before the race whether he runs or not and three things will influence me.

'Firstly, I want one horse above him in the weights to stay in to prevent him going up to 12st, secondly I wouldn't want heavy going and thirdly I want to see him school well between now and the race.

'He's been schooling satisfactorily, but I want to see him jump that little bit quicker if he's going to be running in such a competitive, fast-run handicap hurdle.'

Vintage Crop, however, may be ruled out by factor one as there are horses above him in the handicap unlikely to run. Halkopous, the topweight, has already been earmarked by Mark Tompkins, his trainer, for the Irish Champion Hurdle, while Mighty Mogul, David Nicholson's improving gelding, is a doubtful participant.

Other British entries, Mighty Mogul's stablemate Baydon Star and Saturday's Cheltenham winner Satin Lover, who is trained by Nigel Tinkler, are also destined to be scrubbed. 'Satin Lover's next race is likely to be at Kempton on Boxing Day, and only if he were to miss that would we think about the Ladbroke again,' Tinkler said.

Nicholson's main beef yesterday was that if the weights went up Mighty Mogul would have to transport 12st and not the 11st 10lb that would be imposed in a British handicap. 'It's a ridiculous situation, and they ought to think about changing the rules in Ireland,' the trainer said. 'I would have been interested in the race, but as it is both my horses are unlikely to run.'

Vintage Crop may yet be rescued though by a horse who has helped contribute to the home side's run of five consecutive wins in the race, the 1991 victor The Illiad.

The 11-year-old, the property of Noel Furlong, also contributed a fortune to his owner's coffers two years ago. Warming up with an ante post bet of pounds 10,000 each-way at 33-1 with the sponsors, Furlong continued to support his horse until the white flag was raised. By the time the bookmakers ran up their flag of surrender, Furlong had relieved them of over pounds 1m.

THE LADBROKE HURDLE (Leopardstown, 9 January): Weights: Halkopous 12st 0lbs, Mighty Mogul 11 0, The Illiad 10 10, Jungle Knife 10 6, Vintage Crop 10 6, Muir Station 10 4, Natural Ability 10 3, Eyelid 10 2, Crowded House 10 1, Baydon Star 10 0, Cock Cockburn 10 0, Lift And Load 10 0, Bitofabanter 9 13, Novello Allegro 9 13, Sanndila 9 13, Back Door Johnny 9 11, Kilcash 9 11, Lady Olein 9 11, Larnaca 9 11, Native Mission 9 10, Qualitair Sound 9 10, Random Prince 9 10, Killiney Graduate 9 6, Master Swordsman 9 6, Miss Daisy Dee 9 6, Alterezza 9 5, Doran's Town Lad 9 5, Glencloud 9 5, Rising Waters 9 5, Jeassu 9 4, King Credo 9 4, Try A Brandy 9 2, Gamara 9 0, Ink By The Drum 9 0, Satin Lover 9 0, Tawney Flame 9 0, Desert Lord 8 13, Keppols Prince 8 13, Statajack 8 13, Tahaddi 8 13, Atone 8 12, Reza Khan 8 12, Mr Greenfield 8 10, Cadency 8 7, Naiysari 8 7, Persuasive 8 7, Fay Lin 8 6, Interim Account 8 6, Nordic Gayle 8 4, Nikitas 8 3, Knights 7 9.

EARLY BETTING: Ladbrokes: 8-1 Bitofabanter, 9-1 Vintage Crop, 10-1 Baydon Star, 12-1 Novello Allegro, 14-1 Alterezza, Crowded House, Lady Olein & Reza Khan, 16-1 others; William Hill: 10-1 Baydon Star, Bitofabanter & Vintage Crop, 12-1 Novello Allegro, 14-1 Alterezza, Reza Khan & Tawney Flame, 16-1 others.