Peddlers puts Champion credentials on line at Kelso
Jason Maguire is eagerly looking forward to renewing his association with Champion Hurdle contender Peddlers Cross in today's Victor Chandler Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso.
Donald McCain's pride and joy secured his sixth victory from as many starts in Britain when claiming the re-arranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newbury in November -- beating off a clutch of top-class rivals including Binocular.
He has not been seen in racecourse action since, with his intended target, January's Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock, being abandoned due to a waterlogged track.
Maguire is confident his mount is back on song now, however, and wants him to maintain his unbeaten record to set him up perfectly for a crack at claiming Champion Hurdle glory at Cheltenham.
"They say the ground has dried out a bit and I can't wait to ride him again," said the Meath native.
"It's been a while since he ran, so I'm looking forward to it. We want to get a clear round and then it will be all systems go for Cheltenham.
"He seems 100pc at home and he needs to run. He has only had one run this season and we need to get him out again. Anything can happen in racing -- Zaynar was beaten at 1/14 in this race last year."
Peddlers Cross will face eight rivals in the two-and-a-quarter-mile conditions race, with course and distance winner Bygones Of Brid and Grade One winner Orsippus the two likely to put up most resistance.
All the major contenders for the Stan James Champion Hurdle yesterday stood their ground, including title-holder Binocular and the Willie Mullins-trained Hurricane Fly.
It was much the same for the other big races at the Festival with a total of 24 horses remaining at the latest forfeit stage for the Gold Cup.
These include the last four winners -- Kauto Star (2007 and '09), Denman ('08) and Imperial Commander (2010) -- as well as the King George VI Chase hero Long Run and Hennessy Gold Cup star Diamond Harry.
The remaining contenders are Albertas Run, Carronhills, Carruthers, Chief Dan George, China Rock, Great Endeavour, Joncol, Kempes, Midnight Chase, Mon Mome, Neptune Collonges, Pandorama, Planet Of Sound, Pride Of Dulcote, Punchestowns, Synchronised, Tidal Bay, Weird Al and What A Friend.
Master Minded will face a maximum of 14 rivals when he attempts to dethrone Big Zeb in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on March 16.
Paul Nicholls' brilliant two-miler, winner in 2008 and '09, is unbeaten in three starts this season but must again take on Big Zeb.
Colm Murphy's Wexford raider left Master Minded back in fourth when winning last year's renewal of the Cheltenham feature.
Somersby, who ran Master Minded so close in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot last month, is in the field, with Nicholls also represented by Tataniano and Woolcombe Folly.
Captain Cee Bee, Cornas, French Opera, Gauvain, Golden Silver, I'm So Lucky, J'y Vole, Mad Max, Scotsirish and Sizing Europe complete a select gathering.
Edward O'Grady's Tranquil Sea is second favourite behind the Nicholls-trained Poquelin in a competitive-looking Ryanair Chase. Albertas Run, Kalahari King and Riverside Theatre are still in contention, while Willie Mullins has a strong hand with Golden Silver, J'y Vole and Hennessy Gold Cup hero Kempes; 14 horses were scratched.