Holley was not alone in finding it difficult to believe. Mighty Mogul, favourite not just for yesterday's race but also the Champion Hurdle itself, was way back at the top of the hill, dismounted and painfully lame on his off-fore. As Muse's throng of owners - he belongs to a 100-strong racing club - slapped backs in the winner's enclosure, Mighty Mogul returned to the stables with his season apparently over.
The initial bulletins were not encouraging. 'I think he could have a hairline fracture of his pastern,' said David Nicholson, Mighty Mogul's trainer. They got better, but only just. 'The vet can't make him flinch on it,' Nicholson said later, 'and it is just possible it's a muscle spasm and not that serious. He'll be plastered up and taken home for X-rays and I'll know more in the morning.'
His optimism can be forgiven, but it did not look good. The bookmakers took a similar view and have taken Mighty Mogul out of their Champion lists, with Halkopous promoted to favourite at a best price of 7-2 (Hills). Muse is 7-1 at best (Ladbrokes), with Coulton (8-1) and Vintage Crop (9-1) close behind.
Muse was offered at 100-1 early in the season - David Elsworth, his trainer, is on - and while many will feel inclined to forget yesterday's form, Muse hurdles with unusual efficiency, is well suited to Cheltenham's stiff track and fights like a Spartan when necessary. Elsworth is unlikely to feel the need to hedge.
The second unpleasant sight here yesterday was Declan Murphy's ride on Gandouge Glen in the opener, a novice handicap hurdle.
Approaching the second last, Murphy appeared to force Daniel Fortt, on the favourite Giventime, out of the race, with Fortt only narrowly avoiding a collision with the wing of the hurdle.
Murphy later insisted that his inexperienced mount had been drifting left throughout and that he did not see Fortt on his inside until too late. However, on the head-on video which the stewards watch, the incident looked dreadful, and while Murphy was suspended for 14 days from 8 February for causing intentional interference, he may count himself lucky that the matter was not referred to the Jockey Club for further scrutiny. One admittedly biased observer, Giventime's trainer Andy Turnell, said that Murphy should have been 'banned for a year'.
Weighing-room discussions all but overtook the action on the course, and two more Festival trials. In the juvenile hurdle, Kadi gave Nicholson and Richard Dunwoody an idea of which way the wind was blowing by fading tamely behind Major Bugler.
It reached gale force in the Timeform Hall of Fame Chase, in which they were represented by Another Coral. Previous Gold Cup winners in Cool Ground and Garrison Savannah were already spent forces at the last, when Another Coral jumped past Sibton Abbey and set off for home.
Had the race been 150 yards shorter, Another Coral might be considered a possible Gold Cup winner. He reached the limit of his stamina that far from the post and folded immediately, allowing Sibton Abbey to get back up on the line. The form will surely be confirmed when they meet again in the Festival's highlight over an extra furlong.
'We've had a bloody good year,' Nicholson said later, 'racing's always been swings and roundabouts.' But while the words were philosophical, his eyes, somehow, seemed to disagree.Reuse content