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Binocular team seek form issue

Binocular is having a thorough check-up in an attempt to discover why JP McManus' smart hurdler has lost his spark this season.

Connections are doing their utmost to find out why last season's Champion Hurdle close third disappointed in his first two starts this term and was not impressive in beating two vastly inferior rivals at Sandown last weekend.

Trainer Nicky Henderson believes there's still time to get Binocular back to his best as the Smurfit Kappa-sponsored race is more than a month away.

"We all went to bed at the end of last season thinking Binocular would win next year's Champion Hurdle," Henderson said. "I can't say I'm going to be quite as positive, but I certainly wouldn't recommend ruling him out.

"He's having a full MOT this week and a few interesting things have cropped up. The thing that's really been missing this year is the slickness in his hurdling. He has changed his technique and there has to be a reason for that.

"There's nothing that one can see. He's sound and has had no problems all the way through the season, but something is affecting him.

"We have a few interesting ideas and hopefully something will come out of it. We've got time.

In fairness, this time last year Punjabi was on the back-burner and had been forgotten about.

"We've still time with Binocular, and once again Punjabi has, not surprisingly, been forgotten about.

"Now we are all waiting for Zaynar. He goes to Kelso next Thursday for the Morebattle Hurdle, Punjabi will go to Wincanton again and Binocular will not run again before Cheltenham."

Despite not living up to expectations this winter, Binocular is still only 8/1 to take the honours in Gloucestershire on March 16.

Meanwhile, Willie Mullins has his eyes firmly fixed on the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Cooldine after his return to form in last weekend's Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Last season's impressive RSA Chase winner was pulled up on his comeback in the Lexus Chase over Christmas but showed improvement to finish a neck behind Joncol on his last outing.

"Cooldine certainly showed his old sparkle and was beaten by a horse that is bang in form in Joncol," Mullins said. "He should keep improving now in the run up to Cheltenham."

Another Mullins inmate who is Cheltenham-bound is Cousin Vinny.

The seven-year-old is without a victory in three starts since tackling fences and looks set to revert to the smaller obstacles for the World Hurdle.

"His fencing is too deliberate, so I'm going to call a halt to his chasing career for now," Mullins continued.

"He may have another go at it next season, but the World Hurdle will be his March target."

The dream clash between America's top two fillies, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, looks to be back on after Oaklawn Park accepted a compromise date for the $5m Apple Blossom Stakes.

Rachel Alexandra's owner Jess Jackson backed out on Wednesday, citing concern from trainer Steve Asmussen that his 11-time winner would not be ready for a peak performance on the original date, April 3.

However, with course officials now moving the contest to April 9, the headline-grabbing meeting looks set to take place.

Jackson said: "We are delighted that the race is on for April 9 and want to thank Charles Cella (Oaklawn president) and Oaklawn for moving the date."

Zenyatta's owner, Jerry Moss, said: "We are thrilled that it is going to work out. We were planning to go, we wanted to support him (Cella) and are really pleased to have a chance to run over a good racetrack."