If Hurricane Danoli blows in at Cheltenham today, the effects will be devastating. Rails will buckle, screams will fill the air and small buildings will be in danger from those who will attempt to celebrate with Ireland's favourite racehorse.
Danoli returns to Prestbury Park for the Champion Hurdle today, 12 months after his success in the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle, once again the vehicle for the National Hunt dream. He was (relatively) cheaply bought at IR£7,000 and is trained from a Co Carlow farmyard by the most unassuming of men, Tom Foley. If Charlie Swan, the gelding's regular jockey, were to hand his whip to Elizabeth Taylor, the picture would be complete.
As last year, Danoli will start favourite, though this time he arrives after a far less satisfactory build-up. He has not run for 76 days, and even then he was defeated by Dorans Pride while suffering from a mild ailment. "I blame myself completely for that," Foley said. "I should not have run him.
"But it seems we always get beat come Christmas time and that didn't do us any harm last year, so I hope it's the same this time around. If I was picking a race to get beat in I'd have picked that one."
Foley is little distressed either by his horse's recent inactivity and has been heartened by racecourse gallops. "We're working out okay," he said. "I'm not going to blame the weather or not getting a run in. If we get beat, we get beat and that's it."
Danoli's market rival, following the withdrawal of Relkeel, is likely to be Large Action. Like the Irish horse, Large Action is by The Parson and a dour galloper in the closing stages of his races. Training comparisons are more difficult to find however as the gelding is trained at the chocolate- box yard called Rhonehurst in Upper Lambourn and the man in his corner is the urbane, former public schoolboy Oliver Sherwood.
Large Action was third in the Champion Hurdle as a novice last season and is considered much more polished this time. "I can categorically say he has improved since last year," Sherwood said. "I'm very happy with the horse and he's in tip-top form."
Among Sherwood's rivals will be his neighbour Kim Bailey, with whom he has been jousting since they carried blotting paper in their bags. "We've always been competitive with each other," Sherwood said. "We were at school [Radley] together and we played cricket together. Kim used to be top-class but he's gone to pieces now. It's age I think."
Maturity, though, has produced an upturn in Bailey's fortunes on the turf and it is not unthinkable that he will detonate his blank Festival record this week by winning both the Champion, in which his representative is Alderbrook, and the Gold Cup. "The Cheltenham thing is just a statistic," he said. "Obviously I'd like to have a winner at the Festival but I've been lucky enough to have won the Grand National and many people haven't."
If Alderbrook, who was trained on the Flat last year by Julie Cecil, succeeds it will be on the back of the briefest preparation for hurdling's crown. "I originally thought the horse had very little chance of succeeding, for the very simple reason we had only eight weeks from the day the horse left Newmarket to running in the Champion Hurdle," Bailey said.
"I had my doubts, but he's been doing everything right at home and then he did it well at Wincanton [on his sole start over hurdles this season].
"The Champion is a huge step up from what he's done and it's asking a huge amount of the horse, but he's certainly good enough and tough enough. It's more a question of if everything goes right on the day. You can't afford to make a single mistake in the Champion Hurdle."
Alderbrook's credentials certainly looked better before the weekend, when several of his Wincanton victims let down the form. There remains, though, the suspicion that the Champion will this year go to a speed horse, an animal who will expose the one component that neither Large Action nor Danoli carry in their well-stocked armouries - instant acceleration.
Two runners stand out in this respect - Fortune And Fame and Mysilv. The former has been largely ignored recently as the spotlight has fallen on his fellow Irish challenger Danoli, but it must be remembered that he got the better of the argument when the pair met at Leopardstown last year. Mysilv won at the Festival last season and has been brought along sympathetically this term by Charlie Egerton. Several strands of form suggest she is by some margin the best each-way prospect in the race.
Sherwood and Bailey have sound prospects in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle when they are joined by another trainer who has Radley as his Alma Mater, Nigel Twiston-Davies, the man behind the former Derby favourite Taos.
Sherwood fields the probable favourite here in Callisoe Bay, though it has to be said that anyone living within a 30-mile radius of Lambourn would have to have had their head in a bucket of water for the last two weeks to miss the whisper about Bailey's Simple Arithmetic.
Whatever the outcome, the expectant roar from the stands at the outset of the meeting will be a moment to cherish. In fact, the whole of Cheltenham should be appreciated for the outstanding sporting spectacle it undoubtedly is. If there is a reminder that nothing, no matter how huge and successful, goes on forever it is the name of the race last contested by Callisoe Bay: the Baring Securities Tolworth Hurdle.Reuse content