When a horse is a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, its form hardly needs advertising. Even so, connections of Kicking King would have felt an element of warmth to counter the current cold snap when War Of Attrition collected the Clonmel Oil Chase in Ireland yesterday.
It was the same horse which had vanquished an admittedly undercooked Kicking King at Punchestown four weeks ago. Tom Taaffe's gelding is now ready to do some roasting himself as he heads the eight-strong market for the Betfair Chase at Haydock tomorrow.
To extend the culinary theme, one of his main challengers will be a fellow overseas traveller in Beef Or Salmon, while on the rake for the home guard will be the Charlie Hall Chase winner, Ollie Magern.
The further inclusion of Kingscliff.,Take The Stand and Keen Leader - along with the Gold Cup fourth and Grand National runner-up Royal Auclair and last year's Hennessy Gold Cup winner Celestial Gold - means that we are provided with a sneak preview of the Blue Riband itself.
War Of Attrition has Cheltenham top-spot aspirations himself after following up at Clonmel yesterday. The sole challenger to Mouse Morris's gelding, according to the bookmakers at least, was Rathgar Beau, who had hacked down a beanstalk of his own when he beat Moscow Flyer at the Punchestown Festival.
In the event, the market principals chose to shadow each other at the back of the field. Rathgar Beau, the winner of the corresponding race 12 months earlier, was the keener of the horses to get on with it, until five fences out, when Conor O'Dwyer, War Of Attrition's rider, was the keener of the jockeys. It proved to be the master touch in a slowly run race.
Shay Barry, on Rathgar Beau, only realised the problem when the other horse had bolted and had little chance to claw back the length by which he was beaten on the short run-in.
"It was a bit of a sprint, which I suppose would suit Rathgar Beau, who has got a lot of speed, and I was pleased," Mouse Morris, the winning trainer, said. "Conor said to me the horse has not been so fast over the last two in his whole life, but he has jumped well and I can't ask for any more. They are two good horses.
"We will have to see how he comes out of the race, but if he is OK he could run in the John Durkan [at Fairyhouse on 4 December]. The Lexus would be the aim at Christmas, as I would like to run him over three miles to see how he gets on."
Eamonn Sheehy, trainer of Rathgar Beau, added: "We couldn't be any happier with him. It is a little bit disappointing he got beaten, but he was beaten by a very good horse.
"I thought between the second-last and last that we had him, but War Of Attrition has quickened up well. My lad will improve a bit, but not an awful lot. Shay said our lad was very free early on and he thought if he could get him settled he would have a bit of extra speed at the end, but there was no great pace on.
"The John Durkan is an option but I might go back to two miles and his main aim will be the two-miler at Punchestown at Christmas. He will also get an entry in the Tingle Creek."
François Doumen will rely on Blue Canyon rather than Baracouda in the Ascot Hurdle at Windsor today. The French handler has elected to bypass the two-and-a-half mile event with Baracouda and the crack stayer will attempt a third successive win in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury next week instead.
Blue Canyon will be having his final run over hurdles before embarking on a chasing career and made a good start to the season with a five-length win in an amateur riders' contest on the Flat in France this month. He takes on five rivals in the Grade Two contest headed by the Howard Johnson-trained No Refuge, winner of the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
"I ran him in a Flat race over 3,000 metres three weeks ago, which he won easily and that showed that he was in good form," Doumen said. "I am now giving him one comeback run over hurdles before he goes novice chasing.
"He has to give weight to all the other horses, but that is the punishment for having a good season last year. I would have preferred soft ground but there is nothing I can do about that."
l Nathos caused an upset when he beat the hot favourite Not Left Yet in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at Market Rasen yesterday. The Martin Pipe-trained Not Left Yet was sent off a heavily backed 4-7 chance on the strength of an easy win at Cheltenham last Friday but was found out under a 7lb penalty. Nathos, trained by Charlie Mann and a 10-1 shot, found the better finishing kick under Noel Fehily to record a decisive victory.
Nap: Kausse De Thaix
NB: The Local