FORMER Champion Hurdle runner-up Peddlers Cross will head for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham, despite a less than convincing success at Musselburgh yesterday.
Donald McCain's 1/5 favourite was far from impressive when beating Cue To Cue by a length and three-quarters, but connections were heartened by the victory, his first since November 2011.
"My first thought was that he could have been a little more impressive, but when I spoke to Jason (Maguire) he was full of him and he's the man that matters," McCain said.
"Jason was happy with everything that we were worried about and he said his jumping was exceptional and he cannot understand why we ever tried him over fences. Peddlers Cross was a bit keen and Jason didn't want to set sail from the top of the straight, so he coasted away in front, but the horse has always been switched off in front.
"When he won the Neptune he was lazy and he has always been that way and he was ridden to get further. Jason said he felt more like a World Hurdle horse today than ever." Just for good measure, McCain and Maguire doubled up in the bumper with former point-to-pointer Plan Again (5/2).
Sprinter Sacre has his rivals running scared and only eight possible opponents remain for Nicky Henderson's star in the Champion Chase on March 13 after yesterday's declaration stage.
Flemenstar, found to have a lung infection after his defeat at Leopardstown, has been scratched, which means that last year's protagonists – stablemate Finian's Rainbow and Henry de Bromhead's Sizing Europe – look like the hot favourite's only serious threats. Colin Tizzard's Cue Card, Sanctuaire, Realt Dubh, Somersby, Tataniano and Wishfull Thinking are the only other horses left in the race.
Henderson is also responsible for the Gold Cup favourite, Bobs Worth, which is among the 24 possibles left in the March 15 showpiece. The 16 scratched horses included Grands Crus, Hunt Ball and Sizing Europe.
Hurricane Fly is one of 22 horses left in the Champion Hurdle and is a hot favourite to regain his title after an unbeaten season. He is one of three entries for Willie Mullins, along with Thousand Stars and Zaidpour. Zarkandar is the only possible runner for Paul Nicholls.
Along with Peddlers Cross, the Mullins-trained Quevega remains among the 33 possibles for the World Hurdle on March 14. A fifth victory in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle remains her priority, but Ireland's champion trainer can also call on Back In Focus, Fiveforthree, leading Grand National contender Prince De Beauchene, So Young and Zaidpour.
Reve De Sivola and Oscar Whisky fought out the finish to the Cleeve Hurdle, traditionally a good trial for this event, and both are towards the head of the market. Noel Meade's Monksland is well fancied after his win over three miles at Christmas, while Tony Martin's Bog Warrior has proved a revelation since being switched back to hurdles. Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage was among 28 taken out.
At Kelso today, much attention will focus on Duke Of Navan, which holds a Supreme Novices' Hurdle entry at Cheltenham. Very useful in two bumper starts, he went off at short odds for his hurdling debut at Newcastle and duly obliged, before being far from disgraced in a warm Grade Two at Cheltenham. He won with plenty in hand here last month and looks a horse with a very bright future. (© Daily Telegraph, London)