Richard Dunwoody was observing the diplomatic niceties after Flown had beaten the decidedly inferior Ketti by 30 lengths, but still Morley Street's trainer, Toby Balding, can expect to be told this morning that the season's leading rider will be not be available to him on 16 March. It will thus fall to some other 'knight of the pigskin', as jockeys used to be called in despatches, to deliver the awkward Morley Street to the front on the final blade of grass up Cheltenham's straight.
Yesterday's National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell told us nothing about Flown's Festival chance except that he is still alive and has a leg in each corner. In the timid way of racecourse form guides, the entry for Flown read 'must go very close here', but in view of the weakness of the opposition yesterday it should merely have stated: 'will win'. Given that the good to firm ground at Fontwell was exactly what Flown needed to show his best, his four adversaries would have had to climb on to the roofs of Porsches to pose any serious threat.
Not that Masai Mara and Dancing Paddy declined to take Flown on. It was only at the second last flight, when Flown was beginning to reach full sprinting pace, that those two dogged pursuers simultaneously crashed to the turf in a tangle of exhausted limbs. Though it looked nasty, it was nothing compared to the mistake made by a horse called Damers Cavalry in race four. He hit the third last fence so low and hard that he removed the birch right down to the wooden base (it was as if a giant had taken a horse-sized bite out of the stack).
You know that a trial is a formality when the big bookmaking firms decline to send a representative with the brief to hand out price changes. Yesterday there were no representatives and no price changes - except from William Hill, who somehow drew enough lessons from Flown's win to shorten him two points to 8-1 for the Champion Hurdle. They must have had a message from beyond the grave, because there was precious little justification for the move on yesterday's form.
'It hasn't told the world anything, but then we didn't come here for that,' Flown's trainer, Nick Henderson, said of the race. 'The good thing is that they went a good gallop, and so he got a nice lead. We know he's fit and well. We know he's capable, and we know he likes the course (Cheltenham). It's a very open year this year, and that's why there'll probably be a million runners.' And a few million-to-one shots, hoping to grab some of the ample place money.
Now that Flown has re-established his place among the front five contenders, attention switches to Wincanton on Thursday where Morley Street may, after all, take on Muse, Kribensis and Gran Alba in the Kingwell Hurdle. Balding would rather prepare Morley Street directly for Cheltenham, but with Dunwoody almost certain to opt for Flown, the trainer wants to give his replacement a chance to acquaint himself with Morley Street's numerous idiosyncrasies.
Stopping in front is the main one (if you disregard the graver issue of his tendency to bleed internally), and there is little doubt that Morley Street is the most difficult ride in jump racing. Jimmy Frost, his original jockey, will not be substituting for Dunwoody because the owner has forbidden it, and the only obvious candidates without prior engagements are Jamie Osborne and Graham Bradley, who is highly skilled in the art of late delivery.
While saddling the hopelessly clumsy Boraceva at Fontwell yesterday, Balding restated his belief that Morley Street is not yet out of the reckoning, despite his various problems. 'They're making Muse favourite, and I know I'm 9lb better than him,' he said, exemplifying the enjoyable habit some trainers have of talking about themselves and their horses in the same terms.
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