Dunguib among hurdle entries

Niall Cronin

In what could be one of the most memorable renewals of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, 34 entries were yesterday received for the opening-day feature race at the March festival, a record breaking 21 of which were Irish trained.

As reported, novice sensation Dunguib was among the entries although connections still maintain they favour sticking to the novice route, while last years 1-2-3 of Punjabi, Celestial Halo and Binocular are all included.

The latter, sent off 6/4 favourite last season and yet to return a winner since, is reported on track by owner JP McManus' racing manager who also added that recent French import Rock Noir could also give the popular Limerick owner two runners in the race.

"Binocular is still on course for the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown on February 6 and (trainer) Nicky Henderson is very happy with him at the moment," Berry revealed.

"He came out of the Christmas Hurdle in good shape and I thought that he ran a cracker there -- he wasn't beaten too far and it was a much better performance than Newcastle.


"We didn't have any real excuses at Kempton so he has a little to find on Go Native on the formbook. We will get Sandown out of the way before focusing on the Festival but he looks in good form at the moment and we couldn't be happier with him."

While of Rock Noir, a horse who joined Jonjo O'Neill after winning five on the trot for French trainer Marcel Rolland, Berry admitted he would like to see him run once before the Festival. The latest of his five wins was a Grade 1 contest where he beat the Edward O'Grady-trained Jumbo Rio -- another Champion Hurdle contender.

"Rock Noir hasn't been back in training for very long and we would need to get a run into him before Cheltenham before deciding whether to go for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle. He has settled in well at Jonjo's but we haven't got any firm plans for him at the minute.

"His form in France is very good and it will be interesting to see how he stacks up against the English horses when he does run."

The main protagonists of the weekend's Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle are all entered up with Go Native on the verge of a £1million bonus if he could follow up his Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle wins.

Paul Carberry was sidelined for both those victories as Davy Condon deputised, but Carberry is unsurprisingly looking forward to renewing the partnership with last season's Supreme Novice Hurdler.

"He's in great form," said Carberry who benefited from two rescheduled meetings this week by riding winners at both Naas and Punchestown.

"I saddled Go Native at Kempton and I was pleased with him that day but I knew he'd pull himself up a bit after the last as the ground was very gluey. He much prefers better ground and hopefully it will be in March but we're very happy with him.

With the gears he has shown and his favouring for being held up, it was little surprise to hear Carberry admit: "He's the sort of horse I love riding."

The currently sidelined yet very exciting Hurricane Fly and Voler La Vedette both received entries, although Mikael D'Haguenet was a notable absentee after recent reports, while along with Punjabi, 2008 winner Katchit and 2007 winner Sublimity are the other previous winners entered up.