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Not so much a horse race...more a lap of honour.

Countrywomen in hacking jackets and surgical stockings dangled precariously from a barbed wire fence.

And ruddy-faced farmers jostled with teenagers for a foothold in surrounding trees at Gowran Park's parade ring.

The country track near Kilkenny was packed to bursting point on Saturday as the racing phenomenon that is called Danoli transformed an ordinary four- runner Champion Hurdle prep race into a huge, happy, raucous party.

As young jockey Tommy Treacy emerged from the sanctuary of the weighing room, media men and camera crews surged forward in a scrum the faltering Irish rugby team would do well to emulate.

"Tommy, over here! Tommy, can you go back in and walk out again? Tommy, place your whip in the other hand."

Then the cheers started for Danoli as he trotted into the paddock.

And the race itself didn't disappoint Gowran Park's biggest-ever crowd.

Treacy, oozing confidence, took him straight to the front.

Tiananmen Square - like Danoli returning this season from serious injury - made his move under Charlie Swan on the home turn.

The startled crowd fell silent but Danoli, playing to the gallery, changed gears and was gone.

The tumult was almost deafening as Treacy punched the air in a victory salute.

He said: "The crowd was very tough out there. They closed on me a little approaching the turn, but Danoli was only idling. We had plenty left."

Make no mistake, cult figure Danoli's fairytale comeback continues to gather relentless pace, a momentum that will sweep him to Cheltenham on a wave of Irish pride and euphoria three weeks tomorrow.

I suspect Corals' generous odds of 5-1 won't last too long. Ladbrokes already have the Irish challenger down to 7- 2, which may well represent good value come the hour.

Danoli's eight lengths victory was, in all truth, only to be expected.

But such is the theatre inspired by Danoli that Saturday's Red Mills Hurdle was a curtain call, a lap of honour, for the nation's most endearing horse whose broken bone in a foreleg is held together by three screws. For trainer Tom Foley it was another proud moment.

And further vindication of his decision to bring Danoli back into full training so quickly after his career- threatening injury at Aintree last Spring.

Although man-of-the-people Foley - minus a tie as usual - trains just seven miles from Gowran Park, this was Danoli's first visit to the course.

Foley said: "Now we can look forward to Cheltenham this year.

"We have got the run into him that was vitally needed and he will be a lot more relaxed than he was last year." Finding a second wind, just like Danoli, the Bagenalstown farmer added : "It's great to give the local people the chance to see him in the flesh.

"I was very grateful for their well wishes and prayers last year. They have been answered.

"It is unlikely that he will need anymore X-rays on his leg in the next three weeks and all we need now is a nice bit of fast work approaching Cheltenham.

"Danoli was third in last year's Champion Hurdle, but this year things will be different. Alderbrook's connections will go there expecting to win - BUT SO WILL WE."

Fighting talk. Danoli the gladiator is primed and ready for battle at Cheltenham, racing's most unforgiving theatre of war, on Tuesday March 12.

Whatever you do, wherever you are, don't miss it.

I've a feeling Danoli has a date with destiny.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Owen, Garry
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 19, 1996
Words:573
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