It should have been a day when the thrill of challenging for a pounds 40,000 Ascot prize gripped Michael Hourigan with tension, but now the anxiety is all for the young champion who instead of galloping round the Berkshire course is clinging on to life at Hourigan's Limerick stable. Dorans Pride, last season's top staying hurdler, has suffered such a severe attack of colic that, at the age of six, his racing career is in doubt and his life imperilled.
The horse was found in a distressed state on Thursday and has since had two operations. "If he does survive, he will have a year off," Hourigan said, "and I am told that there is no reason why he should not be as good as ever.
"He had a good night, with very little pain. If the next 24 hours continue that way, we would be hopeful that he will be back with us. There is nothing more to be done now. We just have to sit and hope."
Without Dorans Pride, today's Long Walk Hurdle looks a far more open affair, as Charlie Brooks, trainer of one of the principals, Padre Mio, acknowledges. "We were going to take Padre Mio out of the race as Dorans Pride looked head and shoulders above the rest," Brooks said yesterday.
Now Brooks is set to experiment with Padre Mio (1.20), who was impressive when winning over two miles last time but is now tackling a distance in excess of three miles.
"We've no idea if he'll get the trip, but he's by The Parson and his stock usually stay more than two miles," Brooks said. "The question is 'did he look good enough to win a Champion Hurdle over two miles?'. If the answer is 'probably not', then we need to fish in deeper waters."
Couldnt be Better, Brooks's representative in the main chase of the day, the Betterware Cup, might also have benefited from a weakened field but Rough Quest, the horse that followed him home in the Hennessy Gold Cup three weeks ago has been passed fit after suffering from a muscular problem in his quarters during the week. "I rode him myself on Thursday," Terry Casey, his trainer, said, "and he worked very well."
The Hennessy was a gruelling test and it might pay to overlook Rough Quest and Couldnt Be Better, particularly the latter who has been raised 10lb by the handicapper for his success and is unlikely to be so effective over this track.
"He has a preference for racing left-handed, but has won at Ascot," Brooks said. "I'm more worried about the ground. I'll walk the course and if it's too fast he could still come out."
Another of the leading protagonists, Unguided Missile, has never won when travelling right-handed but there is stable confidence that he can adapt.
"He was going well at right-handed Carlisle in the race that had to be stopped and voided," Joanie Richards, wife of the horse's trainer, Gordon, said. "He's a progressive type and a strong, tough horse."
The strength of Unguided Missile (1.55) is one reason why Richard Dunwoody is in the saddle today to guide him through the hurly-burly rather than the stable-jockey, Tony Dobbin, who has just returned after injury and has a more gentle re-introduction at Haydock.
"Richard has ridden him at Cheltenham and Ayr so it won't to be a problem," Mrs Richards said. The presence of Dunwoody, who has had a terrific run in the big Saturday events this season, is rarely a problem.
Others to watch for on a fascinating card are Dark Honey (12.15), who was among the top staying hurdlers two seasons ago and is now carving his way as a novice chaser, Call Equiname (12.50), who is among this term's best novice hurdlers, and Thumbs Up (2.30), who may be able to reverse Newbury placings with Front Street now that he has a run under his belt.
Mysilv (3.00) will not be much of a price in the finale, but as John Spearing, who had hoped to run Eskimo Nel in the race, said: "She seems to have had the conditions of the race worked out just to suit her."Reuse content