Racing: Desert Mountain approaching his peak

Sue Montgomery favours a progressive four-year-old in today's big race at Cheltenham
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LAST year's running of the Murphy's Draughtflow Handicap Hurdle, the centrepiece of this afternoon's Cheltenham card, proved brimful of Festival clues, though not necessarily in the right order. The winner, Space Trucker, finished third in the Champion Hurdle, and third-placed Barna Boy took the County Hurdle.

But it was the little chestnut horse in fifth place who proved the superstar, and though racegoers and TV pundits will be lucky to see another unearthed today, few would have predicted either the fact or the style of Make A Stand's five subsequent runaway victories, a sequence which culminated in Champion Hurdle glory.

The most valuable hurdle race of the domestic season thus far has attracted a competitive 17 runners, most of whom are on an upwardly progressive curve. Of the proven handicappers Chai-Yo, fit from Flat racing, Secret Spring, on a most favourable mark, and Carlito Brigante, runner-up in the County Hurdle, are the most interesting, but the flies in the ointment may be Desert Mountain (2.50) whose Wetherby victim Noble Colours won at Cheltenham on Friday, and Alzulu, whose outstanding novice season was cut short by injury. The best of the Irish should be Native-Darrig, suffering from a cold last time out.

Space Trucker (2.15) returns to make his debut over fences in the Mitsubishi Shogun Novice Chase and, if he puts in a clear round, should have the class and speed to cope with Ashwell Boy and Direct Route. The six-year- old's connections have already nominated the Arkle Trophy as his next Festival target.

Keeping The Faith, who won in good style at Navan on her timber bow, and ex-Irish The French Furze hacked up at Plumpton on his debut for Martin Pipe. But, with the Jackdaws Castle team in such fine form, Kilbride Lad (1.40), listed-placed on the Flat, can strike first time out in the Come Greyhound Racing Hurdle. Tell The Nipper (3.25) should round off a good day for the Irish in the Foodbrokers Handicap Chase.