Sherwood sits on fence with Action

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Racing

GREG WOOD

It is not often that a horse making his seasonal debut over fences in November is quoted in single figures for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham the following March, but then, in the hurdling division at least, this promises to be a very unusual season.

Alderbrook is injured and may not make it to the Festival, while Relkeel and Danoli have already been ruled out entirely. Montelado, Mysilv and Fortune And Fame have tried and failed before, and River North has yet to jump a hurdle in public. As a result, Large Action, a runner in the novice chase at Uttoxeter this afternoon, is as low as 8-1 for the Champion Hurdle when, if he runs at the Festival at all, it is as likely to be over birch as timber.

Not that Oliver Sherwood, Large Action's trainer, is ruling anything out. "He's born to go chasing, that's what it's all about and if you leave it too long they can get into bad habits and they'll never go chasing," Sherwood said yesterday. "He's been hurdling for two seasons now so we've got to have a try. He's schooled well, though he'll never be flamboyant like The Dikler or Desert Orchid. He's sensible, he's got his own way of doing things.

"But I'm not saying that he won't go back to hurdling if others drop by the wayside. I can't envisage any problems with that, he's too much of a professional, but if punters want to back him for the Champion Hurdle I'd advise them to do it with a run."

Unfortunately, none of the leading bookmakers attaches the "with a run" proviso to Large Action's odds for the Champion, but it is worth pointing out that Ladbrokes will return stakes if Alderbrook, last year's winner, does not make it to the Festival this time. Indeed, the 4-1 "with a run" which the firm offers - Coral are 4-1 "all in" - is as close as we may get this season to a no-lose bet.

If Alderbrook does return to defend his crown, it is hard to imagine that the horse described by Timeform as "potentially the best hurdler since Monksfield" will start much longer than 6-4. Anyone holding 4-1 will be able to hedge, while if he is absent, of course, there is nothing to pay.

As if to redress the balance in the face of this apparent generosity, though, the 4-1 against Double Trigger, the Ascot Gold Cup winner, for next Tuesday's Melbourne Cup is "ridiculous". That, at least, is the opinion of Mark Johnston, Double Trigger's trainer, as reported in an Australian newspaper yesterday.

Since Johnston also described his runner as "the best stayer in England for 15 years", he must be grateful that horses cannot sue for libel, since Ardross and Le Moss, to name but two, would by now be engaging a QC. "The odds of 4-1 are ridiculous," Johnston added. "You can't be certain of anything in a Melbourne Cup, and I don't think any horse should be less than 10-1 in a cavalry charge like that."

Johnston's scepticism is shared by many Australian trainers and bookies, and Jeff Landry, a local layer, did not spare the visitors' feelings. "There are a million reasons why we have been sold a dummy with Double Trigger," he said. "He's run twice abroad, in Hong Kong and France, and he's failed both times, and if you examine the winning times of his races, you'll find that he's just too slow to win a Melbourne Cup." It is probably just as well that Landry kept the other 999,998 to himself.

Punters in all corners of the world have a new champion this morning. Chim Shing-Chung, currently serving eight years for drug trafficking in a Hong Kong prison, took the prison authorities to court when they started removing the racing form from the daily newspapers in an effort to deter illegal gambling within the jail.

The court ruled that the prisoner's human rights had been violated, a stunning judicial vindication for those of us who have always known that the three things which matter are life, liberty and the pursuit of winners.

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