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Brilliant Barton in Champion picture.

Byline: Colin Russell

BARTON is on the trail of Istabraq in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle after indicating that his powers are undiminished with a runaway win at Newcastle on Saturday on his first start for 596 days, writes Colin

Russell.

The unbeaten star performer was yesterday reported to be fine after an invigorating comeback victory in the Pertemps Fighting Fifth Hurdle, and is now a best-priced 12-1 third favourite for the Champion.

Trainer Tim Easterby is to discuss battle plans with Barton's owner Stan Clarke, but suggestions are that a clash with triple champion hurdler Istabraq is the favoured option.

Clarke was at home recovering from a back operation but must have been thrilled at the performance.

Despite having been off the course for 19 months, the seven-year-old made it eight wins from eight runs over hurdles, passing the post seven lengths clear of The French Furze with the others well strung out behind.

As the ante-post quotes flooded in for the Champion Hurdle, Easterby emphasised that he would take it one step at a time.

"The main thing is that he stays right," Easterby said. "He's fine this morning, but it's always a worry, particularly with a big horse like him who's had a leg problem.

"He'll stay over hurdles, that's definite, and if all goes well, he could go next for the Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.

"I had no worries at all about bringing him back to two miles today. He has so much speed it's unbelievable.

"We have to work him on his own at home because he breaks the hearts of the others. Nothing can get near him-he's class."

Jockey Tony Dobbin, chosen by Clarke to replace the retired Lorcan Wyer, hardly had an anxious moment.

Despite a slow early pace, Barton jumped immaculately for him and, after easing past Bring Sweets going to the third-last, he was soon clear with the race in his pocket.

Although Dobbin had to push him along between the last two, Barton drew away to score from The French Furze, who ran on to take second, with Bring Sweets a further 10 lengths away in third.

"His jumping was awesome. He gave me a good feel all the way. I was very impressed with him," said Dobbin, who was completing a memorable treble.

Brian Harding, who rode The French Furze for Martin Pipe, said: "My horse ran well, though the ground was a bit soft for him, but the winner was very impressive. He was in a different league."

The former Pipe-trained Bring Sweets was having his first race over hurdles for his new stable.

Although he was beaten 18 lengths, his trainer Brian Ellison was far from despondent.

"He ran well considering he was meeting the winner at level weights. He just needed it, so he'll improve on that," he said.

CAPTION(S):

Barton and Tony Dobbin lead at the last to win the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on Saturday
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Nov 27, 2000
Words:493
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