Two weeks is a long time in National Hunt horseracing it seems with the defeat of the omnipotent Best Mate and the emergence from the darkened wings of such as Jair du Cochet, Kingscliff and Strong Flow.
In the immediate, heady aftermath of the last-named's success in the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday, all the modest talk was of a novice route all the way through to the Cheltenham Festival. The colder reality, though, has brought a different design. Momentum is building towards participation for Strong Flow not only in the Gold Cup but also the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Connections of the six-year-old, who has emerged from his Newbury assignment in sparkling order according to his trainer, Paul Nicholls, are becoming overtaken by a Wildean tendency. Most things they can resist. Glorious temptation is not among them.
Barry Marshall, Strong Flow's owner, has been mulling over the future for his property from a foreign base in recent days. And it is becoming increasingly more likely that the King George will be the gelding's priority rather than the Feltham Novices' Chase over Yuletide, and that the Blue Riband will subsequently be the conquest instead of the Royal & SunAlliance Chase.
"Over the weekend and since my return to Turkey I've been playing past videos of the Hennessy and now, having better understanding of the pace on view that day and his jumping ability, that does stamp him a class apart," Marshall said yesterday.
"The other issue is that we don't yet believe we've found all his gears. He won at Kelso blindingly easily and at Newton Abbot over a trip short of his ideal and again the gears weren't used. And we didn't use all the gears at the weekend. How much more potential has he got than we've seen on display? There must be more."
Marshall continued: "We've found he's come out of his race very well indeed. Remarkably so. He comes out of his races very fresh, but, after the Hennessy, I thought he would need a recovery. But the next day he had eaten up and was prancing around. I don't want him to be rushed, but he's taken this race well in his stride.
"The thing now will be to watch the entries for both the King George and the Gold Cup and see how the fields stack up. The strength of the field for the King George will be the key."
Confidence among the pretenders is now rising after Best Mate's defeat in the Peterborough Chase and no longer does chasing's crown appear to be a monopoly. "Best Mate won his first Gold Cup when he was seven, so let's keep the options open," Marshall added. "He's a star, he's got his fan club and books written about him and he's very good for the sport. But, some day, Best Mate has got to lose his crown. It's very healthy to have a string of contenders queueing up behind him.
"It would be nice to have something to challenge him at some point. I'd like to think we have. We're very pleased with how he's come out of his race."
More immediate logistics were sorted out for Nicholls's Somerset yard yesterday when it was announced that Timmy Murphy would be reunited with Cenkos as he bids for back-to-back victories in the Tingle Creek Trophy Chase at Sandown on Saturday.
Murphy has not ridden Cenkos since the pair finished fifth in the Nakayama Grand Jump in Japan two years ago. The jockey later appeared in court on charges relating to a drunken incident on the flight home, and was sent to prison for six months. It is a big weekend for Murphy, who will also be aboard Beef Or Salmon in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on Sunday.
The Irishman appears third string in the Tingle Creek, however. Nicholls's Manor Farm stable also has Azertyuiop, the mount of Ruby Walsh, in the race, while Mick Fitzgerald is on hand to partner Le Roi Miguel.
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