Furore surrounding Binocular sees Festival start on sour note
This year's Cheltenham Festival starts on a sour note as the ante-post favourite and title-holder, Binocular, misses the Champion Hurdle in bizarre circumstances.
A drug allegedly used to clear up a skin allergy remained in the gelding's system and, had he raced and then tested positive, he'd have been disqualified.
The British Horseracing Authority is aware that rumour, speculation and conjecture have flourished both on the racecourse, in racing circles and on the internet in the past 48 hours.
Yesterday, the governing body denied suggestions that other horses were tested at Nicky Henderson's yard and that they failed tests. They categorically denied that any horse other than Binocular, which underwent an elective test, had been examined by officials.
But there is the issue of image now at stake for racing. The BHA has spent fortunes trying to foster the right image for the outside world in an attempt to win over new followers and, in racing, nothing flourishes like a conspiracy theory.
This matter is hardly likely to be cleared up while the Binocular episode remains a topic for discussion in sporting circles. The debate is likely to run and run until everything is out in the open and the rumour mongers are silenced.
Henderson laid his cards on the table on Sunday when, on BHA advice, he did not declare Binocular for the feature race of the opening day at the Festival.
Up until that point, Henderson had never hinted that any cloud was hanging over the champion's participation.
Several days earlier, Henderson had called for an elective test on Binocular to see if the medication, dexamethasone, was in Binocular's system, as another horse in the trainer's stable which had undergone similar treatment had returned a post-race positive test. The treatment given was to clear up spots on Binocular's neck, which had reportedly appeared two weeks ago. It is amazing how controversy has followed JP McManus' champion.
Last year, most punters were surprised to learn at the post-race press conference that Binocular had been to Ireland and had undergone veterinary attention under John Halley, the renowned Irish vet employed by the Ballydoyle/Coolmore operation.
This year, the same horse doesn't run in the big race to defend his crown because he has apparently been administered a drug which has effectively eliminated him from the event because of its long-lasting effects. On this evidence, it appears to have been a veterinary cock-up of major proportions.
Any punter with an interest in this year's Champion Hurdle could be excused for thinking he has been shown little consideration. To their credit, most bookmakers have refunded ante-post stakes on Binocular. (© Daily Telegraph, London)