For Ireland's travel agents, this will surely be a week to remember. The country's racing fans - in other words, almost the entire population - awoke yesterday morning to the memory of Danoli's exceptional comeback race on Sunday, and the news that the nation's favourite horse had returned from the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in good health. For many, personal attendance to see him contest the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March will be little short of a sacred duty.
Danoli should be joined at the Festival by Montelado, who was also the subject of encouraging reports after finishing fourth at Leopardstown on his own much-delayed return to hurdling. Inevitably, though, it was the latest bulletin on Danoli, whose career seemed to be over after a knee injury sustained in last year's Aintree Hurdle, which attracted particular attention on both sides of the Irish Sea.
"Muscle-wise and body-wise, Danoli is a bit weary and sore," Tom Foley, his trainer, said yesterday. "But it is nothing worse than you would expect for a horse running for the first time after a lay-off, and nothing that one day off won't put right. I was thrilled with him yesterday and he will run next in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park on 17 February, and we can even start thinking of Cheltenham."
Pat Flynn was just as positive in assessing Montelado's performance. "I was not disheartened even in the slightest," he said. "I said beforehand that he would need the run and that's just what happened, and Adrian [Maguire] said he couldn't handle the ground. He was beaten at Leopardstown the year he won at Cheltenham [in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle] and he will now go straight to the Champion Hurdle."
Danoli and Montelado were just two names among a remarkable 66-strong entry for the Champion Hurdle yesterday, (12 months ago, only 24 horses were entered). "There was always going to be a big entry with so many question marks over the major contenders, but we certainly did not anticipate so many," Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham's managing director, said yesterday.
Good Flat performers inluding Kribensis, Royal Gait and Alderbrook have taken the Champion in recent years, so the entries for Alriffa, Celestial Key and Celestial Choir are interesting even though all have yet to jump a hurdle in public. Two of the year's best novices, Castle Sweep and See More Business, might also get a chance to take the top prize in their first season over timber, although an appearance in one of the Festivals novice events may be a more realistic alternative.
The pounds 170,000 purse for the Champion has also attracted entries from France and Germany. Wacio, successful at Pau on his two most recent starts, is trained by Jacques Ortet, who in numerical terms at least was France's most successful jumps trainer last year. Wacio has earned more than pounds 285,000 in a career which has also brought Group-race success on the Flat in Turkey and Austria, a fact which has not been overlooked by Hills, who quote him at 33-1 for the Champion.
Germany's contender is Telasco, offered at 50-1 by the same firm, who is another useful Flat campaigner but has run just twice over hurdles. Punters will have a better idea of his chance after Saturday's Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham, which will also give Telasco valuable experience of British obstacles.
The most notable absentee from the entries for the Stayers' Hurdle, also published yesterday, is Dorans Pride, last year's winner. Michael Hourigan's gelding suffered a near-fatal bout of colic in December, but with 51 names still engaged, the race does not lack strength in depth. Algan, the 1994 King George VI Chase winner, Cyborgo, last year's runner-up to Dorans Pride, and Saturday's Haydock winner Better Times Ahead are all on the list.
Smurfit Champion Hurdle (Cheltenham, 12 March): Entries: Absalom's Lady (trained by D Elsworth), Alderbrook (K Bailey), Alriffa (R Hannon), Arctic Thunder (Lady Herries), Aries Girl (P Flynn, Irl), Atours (D Elsworth), Balawhar (E O'Grady, Irl), Be My Hope (N Meade, Irl), Bimsey (R Akehurst), Boro Eight (Miss V Williams), Call Equiname (P Nicholls), Castle Sweep (D Nicholson), Celestial Choir (J L Eyre), Celestial Key (M Johnston), Cheryl's Lad (N Henderson), Chief Minister (T Dyer), Chief's Song (S Dow), Clifton Beat (P Hobbs), Collier Bay (J Old), Country Star (C Brooks), Danoli (T Foley, Irl), Dato Star (J M Jefferson), Derrymoyle (M Cunningham, Irl), Destriero (N Furlong, Irl), Dr Leunt (P Hobbs), Elas Image (M O'Brien, Irl), Eskimo Nel (J Spearing), Express Gift (Mrs M Reveley), Fortune And Fame (D Weld, Irl), Garolo (C Brooks), Grooving (J Gifford), Halkopous (M Tompkins), Hotel Minella (A O'Brien, Irl), Jazilah (D Nicholls), Kadastrof (R Dickin), Killone Abbot (J Old), King Wah Glory (P Burke, Irl), Kippanour (C Mann), Kissair (M Pipe), Lake Kariba (P Nicholls), Land Afar (P Webber), Mack The Knife (M Pipe), Master Beveled (D Evans), Mole Board (J Old), Montelado (P Flynn, Irl), Moorish (J White), Morley Street (G Balding), Mudahim (C Broad), Muse (D Elsworth), Mysilv (C Egerton), Non Vintage (M Chapman), Oh So Risky (D Elsworth), Padre Mio (C Brooks), Pridwell (M Pipe), Right Win (R Hannon), River North (Lady Herries), Romancer (N Twiston-Davies), Saint Keyne (D Williams), See More Business (P Nicholls), Squire Silk (A Turnell), Staunch Friend (M Tompkins), Telasco (C Von der Recke, Ger), Tiananmen Square (A O'Brien, Irl), Trying Again (D Gandolfo), Valfinet (M Pipe), Wacio (J Ortet, Fr).
BETTING: Tote: 5-2 Alderbrook, 9-2 Danoli, 8-1 Collier Bay, Mysilv, 10- 1 Hotel Minella, Right Win, 11-1 Atours. William Hill: 5-2 Alderbrook, 4-1 Danoli, 8-1 Montelado, Mysilv, 10-1 Atours, 12-1 Right Win, 14-1 Collier Bay, Hotel Minella, 20-1 Fortune And Fame, 25-1 Alriffa, Dato Star, Pridwell, 33-1 others. Ladbrokes: 5-2 Alderbrook, 3-1 Danoli, 8-1 Collier Bay, 10- 1 Hotel Minella, Montelado, Mysilv, 12-1 Atours, 14-1 Right Win, 20-1 Destriero, Fortune And Fame, 25-1 Alriffa, Dato Star, 33-1 others.Reuse content