Muse worthy of reflection

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Two high-class hurdlers return to action after a long break at Wincanton this afternoon, but while one is favourite for next month's Champion Hurdle, the other sits all but forgotten at the opposite end of the market. The cameras may focus on Alderbrook, but spare a thought for Muse.

A game and talented front-runner, Muse was briefly the Champion Hurdle market leader himself, three seasons ago when Alderbrook was simply a half-decent performer on the Flat. The winner of three Grade One races, Muse's victories were particularly memorable for the post-race invasion of the winners' enclosure by dozens of members of the racing club which owned him. A tireless servant to his connections, he could also hold his own in Listed company on the Flat.

He has not seen a racecourse, though, since breaking down at Newmarket in October 1994, and he and David Elsworth, his trainer, must start again. "His leg problem was a thing that would benefit from time and he's had plenty of that," Elsworth said yesterday. "Cosmetically it may not look as perfect as the way nature put it together, but it's recovered beautifully and he's going very well.''

After such a long rest, Muse will undoubtedly be short of peak fitness, though as Elsworth points out: "Alderbrook's the same. He's 5-2 for the Champion Hurdle and he hasn't run for almost 12 months."

Certainly, few punters will care to take a short price about Alderbrook for Cheltenham before today's race. It was last year's Kingwell Hurdle, of course, which announced Alderbrook's arrival as a potential champion, but he is also a horse who seems fated to make life difficult for his trainer, Kim Bailey.

Alderbrook beat Trying Again with considerable ease at Wincanton last year, but today's opposition is much stronger. In particular, Right Win, a 7-1 chance for the Champion, is fit and in excellent form, following last month's success in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

If Alderbrook can prevail this afternoon, he would go to Cheltenham as possibly the shortest Champion favourite since the days of See You Then. His victory last March was that of a true champion, but it is impossible to support or oppose him today. Concentrate instead on gleaning as much information as possible from what will surely be the definitive Champion Hurdle trial.

Save the betting money for Sunley Bay (3.05). Paul Nicholls's chaser is in excellent form and goes well at Wincanton, while neither Barton Bank nor Lusty Light, his principal rivals in the Jim Ford Chase, can be relied upon.