Binocular to skip prep run ahead of Cheltenham
There is some significant Cheltenham i-dotting and t-crossing due to be carried out later this week, but a certain amount of punctuation was put in place yesterday ahead of the four-day, £3.3m Festival that starts four weeks from today.
Binocular, for instance, one of Nicky Henderson's Champion Hurdle candidates, will miss tomorrow's Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso and tackle the title he won two years ago without further conditioning in public.
And Irish mare Voler La Vedette, trained by Colm Murphy, is to take on the rock of Big Buck's in the World Hurdle rather than the hard place of Quevega in the David Nicholson Hurdle. Voler La Vedette will likewise head straight for the Festival, skipping her proposed warm-up at Navan on Saturday.
The expansion of the programme at the Festival can make life difficult for ante-post punters, with an increasing number of options for competitors, particularly in the novice hurdle divisions. Unbeaten Fingal Bay, at the head of the betting for both the two-mile-five-furlong Grade One contest and its three-mile equivalent, is now confirmed for the shorter race, the Neptune Investment Management Hurdle.
"I'm sure he would go three miles," said Somerset trainer Philip Hobbs, "but we don't know that for certain."
Hobbs also indicated last year's Arkle Chase winner, Captain Chris, would take his chance in the Gold Cup. The eight-year-old has undergone some intensive education with jumping technique guru Yogi Breisener since disappointing in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham last month, when he was pulled up early after some alarmingly right-handed leaps.
Another of last season's top novices, the Irish-trained RSA Chase winner Boston's Angel, has been ruled out of the Gold Cup after his dull display at Leopardstown last Sunday.
Plans for Magnanimity are up in the air after his run in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown. The Dessie Hughes-trained eight-year-old holds entries in the Ryanair Chase, sponsored by his owner Michael O'Leary, and the Betfred Gold Cup.
However, everything is on hold after he made a bad mistake at the fourth-last fence which cost him any chance he had in the Leopardstown Grade One feature.
"Thank God he's sound," said Hughes. "He made a bit of a mistake at the fifth-last and then at the next he's done the splits at the back of it and that finished him. It's hard to go to Cheltenham now. I don't really know what we will do. I'll leave it up to Michael to see whether we go over there or not."
The loss to frost and snow of Newbury's informative card of Festival trials three days ago has, happily, meant only a brief hiatus for those looking for clues.
The highlights, including a Gold Cup trial, two other high-class chases and one of the season's best handicap hurdles, have been rearranged for Friday, when entry to the track will be free. The stars on view are due to include last year's Gold Cup hero Long Run, which will face a maximum of seven rivals in the Denman Chase, his final prep before the defence of his crown.
The seven-year-old has been beaten by old rival Kauto Star in both his runs this season and he and his connections -- Henderson and amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen -- need the confidence booster of a victory ahead of the big day.
His rivals are set to include two of Kauto Star's stablemates from the Paul Nicholls yard, last year's Gold Cup fourth What A Friend and Tidal Bay.
Elsewhere, the betting frenzy ahead of the English Grand National starts in earnest today, with the publication of the weights for the Aintree marathon. But there were a few ripples in the water yesterday, with the David Pipe-trained Junior -- due to start his road to Aintree at Haydock on Saturday -- backed to clear favouritism, as short as 10/1 in some lists.
Meanwhile, Rubi Light is to bid for back-to-back victories in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park on Saturday. Robbie Hennessy's stable star broke through at the highest level in the John Durkan before finishing second to Synchronised in the Lexus on his first try at three miles.
China Rock, fifth in the Hennessy at Leopardstown last Sunday, has been given an entry by Mouse Morris, while Willie Mullins has entered Apt Approach and Quiscover Fontaine.
Chicago Grey, Gentle Alice, Quarryvale, The Fonze and Trafford Lad complete the possibles.
Mullins appears to hold all the aces in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle. The champion trainer can call upon a high-class trio of Mikael D'Haguenet, So Young and Zaidpour, which all feature in a 13-strong entry.
Chief among the opposition is Charles Byrnes' classy performer Pittoni, with Luska Lad, Staying Article and Kalann also capable of making their presence felt. (© Independent News Service)