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Sceaux has to prove Festival worth

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 Un De Sceaux hasn't lost in Ireland. Picture: Racing post/Caroline Norris.

Un De Sceaux hasn't lost in Ireland. Picture: Racing post/Caroline Norris.

Un De Sceaux hasn't lost in Ireland. Picture: Racing post/Caroline Norris.

THERE'S a Grade One at Ascot tomorrow, but there is probably a good chance the best racehorse running this weekend will be at Gowran Park tomorrow afternoon ... although it might take us a month or so to prove that.

The Cheltenham countdown clock is ticking faster than the gale force gusts circling the country over the last few days, and the majority of horses who are planning on partaking around the Cotswolds in the middle of next month have already provided the evidence of their Cheltenham claims.

However, some are still yet to do so and the next couple of days will see a number of them have their final competitive outing prior to the biggest jumps racing meeting of them all.

So what can we expect at Gowran Park tomorrow and at Navan on Sunday? Well, the Red Mills Trial Hurdle is a Grade Two contest that has produced a Champion Hurdle winner in Hardy Eustace and Macs Joy, who was second, but that pair aside, it hasn't been a brilliant guide for Cheltenham.

UNBLEMISHED

Tomorrow, the Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux – as short as 10/1 for the Champion Hurdle – will make his fifth start in Ireland and will be long odds on to maintain what is an unblemished record that has seen him win the previous four by six lengths, 13 lengths, 29 lengths and 53 lengths respectively, while his two wins in French bumpers yielded 20-length and seven-length victories.

The trouble is, despite those mammoth margins, we are still unaware of how good Un De Sceaux actually is.

We know he is way above average and tomorrow's first tilt at graded company is unquestionably warranted, as is his place in just an 11 strong list of candidates that remain for the Champion Hurdle.

However, can he challenge his stable companion Hurricane Fly or the up and coming brigade of Our Conor, My Tent Or Yours, The New One and Jezki in the opening day feature at Cheltenham and the other question to be posed is, will he be asked to tackle them?

DEVISES

The latter is a question we cannot expect to be answered for another few weeks as Willie Mullins devises the best possible plan to keep these horses in the right company but away from each other if possible.

We are also unlikely to know much more about how good Un De Sceaux is if he wins tomorrow's Gowran Park feature in another hack canter either, as none of his three rivals would really have the right to be lining up in a Champion Hurdle.

Most of the Champion Hurdle chat is about Hurricane Fly and whether he can extend his Grade One haul to 20 and claim a third Champion Hurdle to put beyond any doubt that he is one of the best we have ever seen, but could the horse that lives inside the same gate as him prove to be one of his biggest dangers ... well another facile victory tomorrow afternoon will keep that question lingering at the many Cheltenham Preview evenings and in any Champion Hurdle discussions.

While we are glad to know that, weather permitting of course, we are going to see Un De Sceaux tomorrow afternoon at Gowran, it was disappointing to scan through Navan's declarations and see that, for the second Friday in-a-row, Champagne Fever didn't feature.

The high class grey is a dual Cheltenham Festival winner who was due to run in last Sunday's Moriarty at Leopardstown, but just wasn't right this day last week according to his trainer, who was clearly of a similar opinion this morning as he was an absentee from the five declared for the Grade Two Flyingbolt at Navan.

Mullins suggested last week that he would go there but, alternatively, he did admit there was as a possibility of going straight to Cheltenham without a run and that very much looks like being the case now.

Just staying with the Flyingbolt, though, and Bright New Dawn is probably going to be favourite, but Tim Doyle's Mallowney is a horse to follow here.

Doyle opted against sticking this fella in the Arkle at Cheltenham, but he was a real eye-catcher in the Arkle at Leopardstown when falling at the second last and travelling well behind Trifolium, so it'll be interesting to see how he fares in Champagne Fever's absence.

AFFAIR

As touted during the week, Dunguib will go to the Boyne Hurdle on Sunday rather than take on Un De Sceaux tomorrow.

Philip Fenton's 11-year-old will take on the Grade One winner Zaidpour who disappointed in the Galmoy last time, but he is declared with Ruby Walsh is booked to ride and that Grade Two certainly looks like an interesting affair.

The Gigginstown pair of Rathlin and Bog Warrior are declared for both the Boyne Hurdle on Sunday and the Red Mills Chase tomorrow, with connections obviously, and rightly so, keeping their options open with the adverse weather forecast but once he gets the opportunity to line up, it'll be great to see Bog Warrior back in action as he has been off injured since finishing fifth behind Solwhit in the World Hurdle last March.


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