Peter Easterby is one of the first off the blocks. Maguire has never ridden for the Great Habton trainer before but has been booked to partner Burgoyne in the Stayers' Hurdle at the insistence of the gelding's owner, Peter Savill. That move shoves aside Lorcan Wyer, Burgoyne's regular rider.
'The owner wanted him and he's the one that pays the bills,' Easterby said yesterday while confirming that, with Dawson City likely to bypass Cheltenham for Aintree, Burgoyne is likely to be the only runner at this year's Festival for the man who trained Saucy Kit, Night Nurse, Sea Pigeon, Alverton, Little Owl . . .
In the Champion Hurdle, Mark Tompkins has a grip on Maguire's collar and is determined to hold him to riding Halkopous, although Steve Woodman covets the young Irishman for King Credo, whom he forced clear in the Tote Gold Trophy last month.
'He makes a big difference,' Woodman said, a view that can be supported by the facts of the form book. In eight races over the last two seasons King Credo has won four times; Maguire was on board for each victory but conspicuously absent on the other four occasions.
Hywel Davies, who has ridden King Credo before, is a likely replacement if Maguire sticks with Halkopous, whom Tompkins reports is fully recovered from his trip to Leopardstown when a dismal flop in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
'The Equine Research Station in Ireland carried out exhaustive tests on him and all he seemed to have was a minor cold,' Tompkins said. 'But he ran too badly for it to be just that. I would suspect he was got at.'
Two favourites who failed to win yesterday but who did enough to preclude a pharmaceutical explanation, were Young Hustler and Uranus Collonges. The former was headed close home by The Illywhacker at Worcester but remains on course for the Festival's Sun Alliance Chase, while Uranus Collonges found Tartan Tyrant too nippy at Wetherby but will still have a formidable chance in Cheltenham's four-mile National Hunt Chase.
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