O'Dwyer pins faith in Eustace's versatility

In racing, in politics, in so many other aspects of life, timing and momentum are everything and, a week before the tapes go up on the 76th Champion Hurdle, the swingometer is going with the reigning king. Hardy Eustace is now as short as 3-1 favourite and yesterday his rider, Conor O'Dwyer, added his own positive thoughts to trainer Dessie Hughes's quiet confidence.

In racing, in politics, in so many other aspects of life, timing and momentum are everything and, a week before the tapes go up on the 76th Champion Hurdle, the swingometer is going with the reigning king. Hardy Eustace is now as short as 3-1 favourite and yesterday his rider, Conor O'Dwyer, added his own positive thoughts to trainer Dessie Hughes's quiet confidence.

Twelve months ago, Hardy Eustace led from start to finish and O'Dwyer would be perfectly happy to take the race to his rivals again. But on the other hand, such is his mount's versatility, amenability and professionalism, he would be equally content to let someone else do the hard work. "If there's a strong pace, we can sit in," he said. "If, like last year, there is no pace, we can go on. It is such a huge asset to have, that you are not kept to riding the one way. To be able to go to the start, knowing that you can wait to see where the pace is going to be, is great."

Hardy Eustace completed his preparation for the title defence with a rigorous racecourse spin with stablemate Central House, a Champion Chase candidate, at Leopardstown on Sunday, a piece of work which put smiles on the faces of all at Osborne House. "We were very pleased with him indeed," added O'Dwyer. "We gave him a nice squeeze up over the last few furlongs. The ground was very testing and Central House is not a bad work horse."

The first seven in the Champion Hurdle market are still Irish-trained horses, but it has been all change at the top over the past 24 hours as one-time favourite Harchibald continued to drift yesterday following his mystifying flop in his racecourse workout. Back In Front, trained by Edward O'Grady, is the one challenging Hardy Eustace, who will be trying to become the 13th more-than-once winner of the crown and is described by Ladbrokes as their worst loser of the meeting, at the top of the pile.

Harchibald, 3-1 before the weekend, is out to as much as 5-1, is still an intended competitor. His trainer, Noel Meade, said yesterday: "He was led out for a pick of grass this morning and he's that well we could hardly hold him. He's had some tests and unless anything really wrong shows up, he will run."

Macs Joy, vying for fourth favouritism alongside Brave Inca and Essex, completed his last serious fast work yesterday morning on the Curragh, with Barry Geraghty in the saddle. "He's very well, went 10 furlongs up the grass and Barry was happy," said his trainer, Jessica Harrington. "The big race looks extremely competitive and I think it will come down to whoever gets the run of it and makes the least mistakes, because the horses seem so close together." They certainly were the last time Macs Joy ran; he beat Back In Front and Hardy Eustace by a short-head and a head at Leopardstown in January.

Harrington's proven star, Moscow Flyer, will have his final practice jumps before the Queen Mother Champion Chase this morning at home in Moone, followed by a leg-stretcher at the Curragh tomorrow. "He might need another before he goes over to Cheltenham on Sunday," said Harrington, "but we'll see. He's finished all his serious work. He seems as well as ever, in great form and a bit more mature this year."

Moscow Flyer, winner of the two-mile crown two years ago, will be trying to emulate Royal Relief (1972 and 1974) as one to regain the title. Last year's hero Azertyuiop, and Arkle Trophy winner Well Chief are his two market rivals. "I have the utmost respect for them both," added Harrington.

Another name was added to the mix yesterday, when Mark Rimell revealed that his progressive Oneway, winner of his last five races, is to take on the cracks in the big one tomorrow week, rather than the handicap option of the Grand Annual two days later. Graham Lee, expected to return to action on Thursday after breaking a collarbone, will be in the saddle.

Rimell, who both owns and trains Oneway, admitted the decision had been not only tough, but loaded with egg-on-the-face potential. "To meet the big three at level weights when he should be getting two stone from them would appear stupid," he said. "But the horse is very well and his confidence is at an all-time high. I might not own him next year and I might not have the opportunity ever to run another horse in the race again. But I will declare him for both races, in case something stops him running in the first one, like the horsebox breaking down."

The last time the Rimell name, one firmly woven into Festival history, appeared on a roll of honour was in 1989, when Mark's sister Katie rode Three Counties, trained by grandmother Mercy, to victory in the Foxhunters'. Grandfather Fred, stands joint-fifth on the all-time list at the meeting with 25 winners, one of them being the worst-ever winner of the Champion Chase, Another Dolly, who took the 1980 running only on the disqualification of Chinrullah.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Red Society

(Exeter 4.55)

NB: Headliner

(Exeter 3.25)

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