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Mystery of top novices no cause for alarm

Saturday's dubious Tolworth Hurdle outcome ensured that we would have to wait a while longer before any of this term's novice hurdlers capture the imagination.

A tangible sense of awe and excitement quickly emerges when a prodigious first-season jumper begins to make an impression.

Think Cue Card, Hurricane Fly, Mikael D'Haguenet, Dunguib, Danoli, Monsignor or Istabraq in their early days.

Some fulfil that potential, some don't. However, it's unusual to get this far into an otherwise excellent campaign with such an indeterminate feel to the novice ranks.

There are just two non-juvenile Grade One novice hurdles run in England before Cheltenham.

On Saturday, Philip Hobbs came within a whisker of securing both when Colour Squadron snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Tolworth.

Fingal Bay, Hobbs' Challow Hurdle winner, remains unbeaten and is a cracking prospect, but Hobbs sees him as a potential contender for the three-mile Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham. That effectively negates any Fingal Bay frenzy or hype.

Captain Conan, like Long Run a Grade One victor on its British bow for Nicky Henderson following Saturday's steal from Colour Squadron, is obviously a fair animal. At this stage, though, his fortuitous Tolworth verdict is hardly enough to get the blood up.

At home, it has been similarly inconclusive. Sous Les Cieux looked the part at Fairyhouse and then got readily turned over by Cash And Go at Leopardstown.

Cash And Go, Steps To Freedom and Boston Bob all have 100pc hurdling records. Any of them might yet stamp their authority on the division, but the jury is out for now, with Prospect Wells' Saturday defeat another blow to Steps To Freedom's form.

Maybe part of the reason for the lack of one outstanding flagbearer here is that there appears to be genuine depth among our novices.

Despite Lovethehigherlaw's passing and an undeniable weakness in last term's bumper brigade, there is a long list of young hurdlers that look immensely promising types.

On top of the aforementioned quartet, Mount Benbulben, Sword Of Destiny and Corbally Ghost, as well as yesterday's Naas winner Monksland, are all fairly smart operators.

Galileo's Choice, so gallant in defeat in unfavourable conditions in the Royal Bond, is another that will be seen to better effect when the ground dries up.

Of course, that one's Dermot Weld-trained stablemate Waaheb remains in the long grass, as does Willie Mullins' Samain. Intriguingly, those two are the potential saviours of the 2010/11 bumper crop, yet neither has jumped a hurdle in public.

Who knows, maybe it will be one of them that belatedly sets the division alight.

Rebel trainers on

song at Thurles

In Saturday's paper, we noted the fine run of form being enjoyed by Cork-based trainers.

The trend continued at Thurles that afternoon, when Torremuelle delivered Mallow's David Finn, who is well known in the point-to-point sphere, a first success under rules in the handicap chase.

Fiery Oscar then secured the equivalent hurdle for Rodger Sweeney, another 'pointing' man who is located in Castlelyons in the eastern part of the county.

Festival pointers

On the back of his Thurles stroll under Paul Townend, Quel Esprit has been cut to 25/1 from 40/1 for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory by Paddy Power. Berties Dream, more likely to run in the RSA Chase than the four-miler at Prestbury Park, according to Henry de Bromhead, is a top-priced 33/1 for the former event and 25/1 for the latter after his similarly comprehensive display at the Tipperary venue.

Training performance

of the weekend

Denis Hogan produced -- and rode -- Luke's Benefit to record a decisive fourth win in six starts off a rating of 104 at Naas. The first two of those victories were over hurdles, with the grey hacking up off a lowly 87 at Limerick in November.

Having napped the valiant runner-up Uncle Tom Cobley at 9/1 yesterday, this corner's money was lost, but there's no denying that Hogan has done a marvellous job with the winner.

Ride of the weekend

Andrew Lynch judged everything right on Flemenstar yesterday. Fresh from his first treble at Thurles 24 hours earlier, Lynch refused to get drawn into a premature battle for the lead when Cottrelsbooley took up the running from him after two fences. When that one slowed, he regained the initiative, before showing characteristic composure when Ruby Walsh tried to worry him out of it on Lambro from the home turn. Lynch may have been on the best horse, but not everyone would have won on it.

Elsewhere, plaudits should also go to Co Kildare native William Kennedy, who has quickly recovered from the disappointment of losing the ride on Gold Cup hope Time For Rupert. Having ridden a winner for Henrietta Knight earlier in the week, the 30-year-old was on the mark for his former Curragh neighbour, Noel Chance, with Brackloon High at Hereford yesterday.


200,000 The final bid that Flemenstar drew at Tattersalls in May when led out unsold. After his display at Naas, the decision not to sell looks a mite shrewder.


"Go-karting with @AidenColeman last night. Back of his head is very sore, and that's before we started."

-- Grand National-winning jockey Carl Llewellyn alludes to Aidan Coleman's run-in with Mark Rimell at Lingfield. Rimell admits punching the Innishannon native, saying that he spoke to him in an offensive manner after riding his horse Ours "without any conviction." The incident is the subject of a BHA inquiry.

Irish Independent