Binocular's sights set on Festival title
Tuesday 18 November 2008
Having gone back to the future with Hardy Eustace, the Smurfit Champion Hurdle rankings remain in need of refreshment. The next generation missed its first opportunity on Sunday, when the ageing champion proved too sprightly for Sizing Europe and Jered at Punchestown, but get another chance on Saturday through two of the leading juveniles of last season, Crack Away Jack and Binocular.
Crack Away Jack, a handicap winner at the Festival, made an impressive resumption at Chepstow last month and now steps up in class for the Coral Ascot Hurdle. Binocular, meanwhile, tackles the Betfair Hurdle at Haydock, having been beaten by only one horse during his first season over hurdles (Captain Cee Bee, when taking on older horses at Cheltenham).
His progress is of particular interest now that Nicky Henderson has come up with another Champion Hurdle type for J P McManus in Aigle D'Or. Beaten only in a photo when conceding 16lb to Numide at Cheltenham on Sunday, Aigle D'Or was yesterday cut from 33-1 to 16-1 by Totesport. For now, however, the ball is in Binocular's court. "He has done great over the summer," Henderson said. "Haydock is the obvious place to go: it's nice to be able to start a four-year-old off in his own age group, because they don't have easy second seasons."
On the same Haydock card, meanwhile, Kauto Star will be very short odds to win his third consecutive Betfair Chase. Exotic Dancer, second last year, seems no less obviously qualified, among just half a dozen candidates, for the same position this time.
Binocular and Aigle D'Or aside, McManus will by no means have despaired of Jered, as Noel Meade, his trainer, considers him more effective on better ground. As for Sizing Europe, some day he will fulfil his undoubted talent, perhaps by pouncing off a strong pace. Andrew McNamara sent him to the front fully four out at Punchestown, only for Hardy Eustace to rally as he tired on the run-in.
Henry De Bromhead, Sizing Europe's trainer, accepted responsibility for those tactics afterwards, and was satisfied that the horse had shown himself over the problem identified after he weakened abruptly in the Champion last season. Sound yesterday, he is likely to go to the Leopardstown Christmas meeting next.
There will be no fresher blood among the hurdlers – and little more blue – than Hebridean, a Group winner for Aidan O'Brien last summer. Despite suggestions that O'Brien, who crafted an immortal hurdler for McManus in Istabraq, might renew his jumps licence, Hebridean has now been sent to Paul Nicholls. "We hope and think he is going to be a very exciting jumper," O'Brien said. "But at this time of the year we are very busy, with a lot of yearlings to be broken, so we won't have any runners [over jumps] this year."
There will be a poignant reminder of one of the most talented animals O'Brien has trained when the only foal sired by George Washington goes under the hammer at Goffs in Co Kildare on Friday. The tragic genius of modern thoroughbreds, George Washington broke down fatally at the Breeders' Cup last year, having returned to training after an abortive stud career. Though he covered some 50 mares, chronic fertility problems made a mockery of his virile physique.
Now he has just this one, tenuous conduit into the gene pool: a filly out of a well-related Rainbow Quest mare named Flawlessly. She was bred by Stefano Luciani, and foaled just down the road from Goffs at the Irish National Stud. It is not often a bloodstock auction can offer a "unique" opportunity in the strictest sense of the word, but this filly is clearly a collector's item, George Washington's one and only legacy to future generations.
Zarkava, of course, can only manage one foal a year anyway, which makes her retirement seem sadly premature. But her career was otherwise toasted wholeheartedly in London last night, when she was named Cartier Horse of the Year.
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