Two days before Hardy Eustace, the reigning hurdles champion, has his last Festival prep, his trainer Dessie Hughes, surprisingly, has nominated the previous title holder, Rooster Booster, as the main danger at Cheltenham next month. The veteran Co Kildare handler, who knows Prestbury Park better than most - he rode Monksfield to win the Champion Hurdle in 1979 and Davy Lad the Gold Cup two years earlier - is working on the horses-for-courses theory in picking Philip Hobbs's grey rather than any of the massively strong Irish contingent.
"Those that have run well at Cheltenham usually go back and run well again," Hughes said. "I fear Rooster Booster. If he turns up, he'll go close."
Hardy Eustace, who won the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle at the Festival as a novice, was a 33-1 shot for the senior crown last year; this time he is third favourite, at 6-1, in among five compatriots headed by Harchibald. The eight-year-old was third to two others, Macs Joy and Brave Inca, at Leopardstown 19 days ago and will have the finishing touches added at Gowran tomorrow. "He came out of that last race very well," added Hughes. "He's stronger this year, and more forward."
If a Champion Hurdle dark horse is to emerge, it may be in tomorrow's Totesport Gold Trophy at Newbury. Twenty-seven were declared yesterday for one of the season's hottest betting heats, including six who hold the Cheltenham entry: Royal Shakespeare, the Martin Pipe pair Copeland and Tamarinbleu, and the Irish trio Essex, Power Elite and Al Eile, all priced at 33-1 or longer for the big one.
Michael O'Brien's charge Essex, who has won the Irish Cesarewitch and Pierse Hurdle on his last two runs, has been ante-post favourite for tomorrow, but the gamble of the £125,000 contest has been the Malcolm Jefferson-trained novice Roman Ark, backed from 11-1 to 7-1 yesterday with the sponsors.
* The Jockey Club deal with two hearings in London today. First up is the case of Endless Summer, the colt whose birth date was wrongly registered and so masqueraded as a year too young through his career. Philip Mitchell, manager of Juddmonte Farms, who owned and bred the horse, will face the disciplinary panel. Then David Elsworth appeals against a £1,500 fine over the running of Wavertree Boy at Taunton 10 days ago.Reuse content