THE Cheltenham Festival has now been rescheduled for April 17 to 19 and will clash with the Craven meeting at Newmarket, one of the first important flat meetings of the season.

This was good news in a week when meetings continued to be lost because of the foot-and-mouth situation.

However, the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, this week again emphasised that the government has no intention of intervening and cancelling major sports events, including racing, stating that it was "up to the governing bodies of the sports to take a common sense approach".

West Witton trainer Ferdy Murphy, one of the first to close his yard and cease racing, has now been persuaded by veterinary advice to resume having runners, with five due to contest events at Huntingdon yesterday.

These included Addington Boy, who is due to retire at the end of the season. Murphy was reassured by Jockey Club chief veterinary adviser Peter Webbon, who suggested racing poses little threat to the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

Sandown was called off for waterlogging on Friday, but the Grand Military was re-scheduled for Saturday.

Unfortunately, Flat Top (Mick Easterby), favourite under Milo Watson, failed to live up to expectations.

But the Major had a cracking second on Tim Easterby's Simply Dashing in the hunter chase which opened the card.

The very heavy ground would not have suited the Great Habton runner and he has recently been "tubed" (an operation/technique to improve his breathing), so we are confident he will return to old winning ways.

The Sunderlands Imperial Cup hurdle at Sandown on Saturday was a fascinating contest, if disappointing for our raiders.

Batswing, Brian Ellison's good horse, was brought down at the first and the much-touted four-year-old novice Dibea Times (Malcolm Jefferson) seemed to find the sticky going too much for him.

He raced well but was pulled up after the home turn - his day will come again. The race went to Ibal (Nerys Smith).

The most exciting race for us in the north was the novice handicap hurdle final, sponsored by the European Breeders Fund for National Hunt horses.

Favourite was Scottish trainer Lenny Lungo's Direct Access, unbeaten in three starts, but leading permit holder Norman Mason had two of his string from Crook running, Tyneandthyneagain (Kenny Johnson) and Red Imp (Dominic Elsworth).

The bet from the north was a reverse exacta (the Tote's straight forecast) perming any two of the three, as Mason is well known to us for pulling off the big southern raids, or going jolly close.

Direct Access and Tyneandthyneagain, both big, gangly horses who will be better with a proper jump in front of them, battled to the line with the Scottish runner just denying the County Durham giant, paying £100.30 on the exacta.

Meanwhile at Warwick, Ellison was having better luck than with Batswing as Vinny Keane partnered Virtuous Circle to a novice chase win, dominating all the way.

Among the thin fare was a good deal of all-weather racing and it has been no surprise to see David Barron on top form still.

Dean Mernagh partnered a Wolverhampton double for the Maunby trainer, Oscar Pepper and Mallia.

Julie Craze, too, has struck a good vein of form and sent down Southern Dominion from Elvington to the same meeting to win under useful apprentice Paul Goode.

Also noted was Kevin Darley, preparing to defend his championship title, with a double for trainers away from here.

He said that he will ride for Tim Easterby and Mark Johnston this summer, hoping to keep up quality rides as well as quantity.

Julie Craze's Tom Tun landed a valuable handicap at Wolverhampton later in the week, jockey Tyrone Power driving the sprinter home.

The trainer had intended to rest her star for the turf season, but was pleased that she had decided to continue on the AW.

David Chapman's own Redoubtable, winner of 12 of his first 100 races, began his second century with a win on the same card, Tony Culhane partnering this evergreen.

The Week's Winners

Key: At present what turf racing takes place is National Hunt (jumps), except for all-weather flat racing (AW). f = furlong (8f = 1mile); chs = steeplechase; hdl = hurdles race; NHf = National Hunt flat race (bumper). Hb = homebred by owner.

Thursday last week. - Wolverhampton AW: (7f) Oscar Pepper (trained by David Barron, at Maunby; owned by Ian Armitage), ridden by Dean Mernagh; (5f) Southern Dominion (Julie Craze, Elvington; Mrs Angela Wilson), Paul Goode; (6f) Mallia (David Barron; H T Duddin), Dean Mernagh.

Friday. - No UK racing.

Saturday. - Warwick: (chs) Virtuous Circle (Brian Ellison, Malton; Ffwd Precision Marketing Ltd), Vinny Keane.

Monday. - No DST winners at Stratford or Plumpton.

Tuesday. - No DST winners at Southwell AW.

Wednesday. - Wolverhampton AW: (5f) Tom Tun (Julie Craze; bred by T Tunstall, owned by Mrs O Tunstall), Tyrone Williams; (5f) Redoubtable (David Chapman, Stillington; trainer), Tony Culhane.

No DST winners at Huntingdon