The Champion Hurdle may have lost much of its lustre this week with the injury to Large Action, but it loses nothing in reminiscences around Britain today. Five former winners of the championship will be remembered.
Perhaps the most popular will be the eponymous figure who parades before the Sea Pigeon Handicap Hurdle at Doncaster and then welcomes back the victor into the winners' enclosure. Sea Pigeon captured the 1979 Ebor on the Flat before securing hurdling's crown for the following two seasons. He is still sprightly although rising 26, which, in human terms, is the age when most people are consigned to the rocking chair.
Another winner is recalled in a title in Cheltenham's Bula Hurdle, which sees Morley Street on leg two of his comeback tour. In the following Tripleprint Gold Cup, the chestnut's stable companion, Beech Road, continues to show there is life following near-death, six years after the screens were drawn round him and the rifle cocked in the aftermath of a fall on this course.
Even Wolverhampton recalls a former champion during Dunstall Park's Shakespearean evening (which, oddly to relate, does not have an event named after The Winter's Tale). The card closes with the Comedy Of Errors Handicap.
If the 1996 winner of the Champion Hurdle is lurking anywhere today it is almost certainly in the Bula, for which seven go to post, and its identity may be female.
With her Festival rivals dropping like aerosol-attended flies, Mysilv (Cheltenham 1.55) has been forced up the ante-post book and there is much to like about both her prospects this afternoon and the shape of her career overall. The mare won the Triumph Hurdle in 1994 and is still only five and almost certainly on the upgrade.
In last season's Champion she was fifth when the youngest horse in the race. The four in front were Large Action and Danoli, who are already booking their seats in the stands for next March, plus Alderbrook and Fortune And Fame, who are both brought flowers and chocolates as often as they are oats, so much time do they spend in the infirmary.
Mysilv finished ahead of Atours and Mole Board that day and there is no reason why she should not do so again, following her pleasing reappearance at Cheltenham, where she won in the fastest time on the card.
The Tripleprint Gold Cup does not contain the depth of quality of previous years, but it does feature one of the revelations of the season so far in Charlie Brooks's Couldnt Be Better. The gelding has been raised 10lb for his wade to glory in the Hennessy Gold Cup and was this week reported to be in Cantona-like form, jumping and kicking with vitality. He will need to be, as both the distance and going are now dissimilar to those which marked his finest hour. The conditions are more in line with the talents of Easy Buck (Cheltenham 2.35), who won at Newbury 24 hours before Couldnt Be Better, again in a good time.
Those who hear the epithet "Gordon Richards's dashing grey" today will be confused as to which horse is being identified. The Cumbrian trainer is represented at Cheltenham by The Grey Monk, perhaps the most exciting novice chaser unveiled this season, while at Haydock the stable's head boy, One Man (Haydock 2.00), turns out for the Tommy Whittle Chase.
One Man, like certain figures in the privatised utilities, has recently done very well for himself without achieving very much. Following a facile seasonal debut success over Jodami at Ayr, he was a short-priced favourite for the Hennessy but withdrawn on the day of the race as connections did not want to get his hair wet.
After the grey was spared this opportunity of soiling his lofty reputation, Master Oats let himself down at Chepstow and One Man was suddenly a major player in the Gold Cup ante-post lists.
It would be nice to oppose him this afternoon, but One Man meets the outclassed Well Briefed, the old gentlemen's club of Docklands Express, Garrison Savannah and Black Humour, and Monsieur Le Cure, who, in trip and going, needs nothing less then the Everglades Grand National.Reuse content