Fresh worries over Dunguib
The meeting at Cheltenham on Saturday, the final one staged there before the Festival in March, is nowadays billed as Trials Day.
For trainers and punters alike, however, there already seems to be at least one Tribulations Day every week.
The ink had barely dried on a setback to Ireland's principal Gold Cup hope, Pandorama, when yesterday brought an abrupt derailment to one of the gambles of the season to date -- as well as an alarming bulletin for those still clinging to the wreckage of Dunguib's attempt to justify an even bigger plunge at the Festival last year.
Tocca Ferro, so impressive at Newbury last time, had been so heavily backed for the Totesport Gold Trophy over the same course next month that many anticipated him entering the Champion Hurdle picture itself.
Yesterday, however, his heartbroken trainer revealed that her stable star would miss the rest of the campaign. "Tocca Ferro is suffering from a small tear in a tendon," Emma Lavelle said. "He worked very well at Kempton on Tuesday, and I'm absolutely gutted."
The sponsors now make the Willie Mullins-trained Final Approach, recent winner of the MCR Hurdle, and Alan King's Walkon 7/1 joint-favourites after Tocca Ferro's defection.
Philip Fenton, trainer of Dunguib, admitted time is running out for his proposed comeback in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park on February 12. Brilliant winner of the 2009 Festival Bumper, Dunguib acquitted himself creditably when odds-on for his return over hurdles last year, as he was set plenty to do against one which has since broken into the elite, Menorah.
But a poor blood test ruled him out of a comeback at Leopardstown last weekend and Fenton admitted: "We're beginning to panic a little bit that he won't be ready for the Red Mills, and we won't be able to run him before Cheltenham."
Fenton warned that Dunguib would be given an entry for the Coral Cup, a handicap over two miles and five furlongs, scarcely the encouragement sought by those backing him for the Champion Hurdle.
There was one positive bulletin yesterday and it came from Wexford in the shape of Colm Murphy's declaration that Big Zeb is on course for the boylesports.com Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on Sunday. Last season's Queen Mother Champion Chase hero took this prize on the way to Festival glory in 2010 and has won both his starts this term, beating old rival Golden Silver each time.
"He seems good and we're very happy," Murphy said. "A lot of emphasis has been put on how good his jumping is and so I hope he doesn't make a little mistake.
"They're giving the ground as soft and I don't think there's much rain forecast. He's been on that ground before so it shouldn't be a worry." (© Independent News Service)