Typical. Just when the weather seemed prepared to clear the stage for his critical rehearsal, the favourite for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup has come up with a problem of his own. And while his trainer sounds relaxed about taking him straight to the Festival in March, Bobs Worth will now line up for the biggest test of his life after only five starts over fences.
Nor is Bobs Worth likely to be the only big name missing from the Argento Chase, one of several key Festival trials scheduled for Cheltenham on Saturday. Tidal Bay, his nearest rival in the betting, is also a doubtful runner – meaning new expectation will precede Imperial Commander's first start in 22 months.
Already a double Festival winner, as a novice over both hurdles and fences, Bobs Worth won the Hennessy Gold Cup on his reappearance at Newbury in November. With his relish for the course in mind, and a suitable interval to the Festival, Nicky Henderson viewed the Argento as the ideal stepping stone. But Bobs Worth gave him cause for concern in a routine scope on Monday, and things have now deteriorated to the point that he must stay at Seven Barrows regardless of the outcome of this morning's inspection. (The course management is increasingly optimistic, while retaining the contingency of deferring the card to Sunday.)
"We were scoping him, and there was a little something there," Henderson explained. "It's just going the wrong way, rather than the right way." Trainers nowadays make a virtue of keeping a horse fresh for the Festival, and Henderson will not contemplate an alternative at Newbury in a couple of weeks.
"I always felt the Denman Chase was too close to Cheltenham for him, he's that sort of horse," he said. "Circumstances have now forced to us to go without it [but] he's a very straightforward horse."
Tidal Bay is meanwhile described as "odds against" making the line-up after returning from his work slightly lame. But Paul Nicholls admitted that the Lexus Chase winner's problem was proving difficult to diagnose – potentially a foot infection or a small pulled muscle – and has not yet given up hope.
The champion trainer, who has lost the services of Big Buck's for the season, may well switch Tidal Bay back to timber at the Festival to take the champion's place in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. A new hat is in the ring for that race, however, after Bog Warrior proved his stamina for three miles at Gowran Park.
Extending a fine run for his rider, Davy Russell, Bog Warrior led throughout the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle and was still tanking when last year's winner, Zaidpour, came off the bridle two out. Briefly pressed after the last, Bog Warrior kept on well to win by just over three lengths. He is also in the Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup, and Tony Martin, his trainer, stressed that the horse would not run anywhere on fast ground. Russell, however, seemed to recommend staying over hurdles now that he has regained his confidence. "He was a bit in and out over fences, with his jumping, but he's a much easier horse to ride now," the jockey said. "In the hustle and bustle of a Ryanair or Gold Cup his jumping might suffer. He has such a huge stride it's very hard to know how fast you're going." Ladbrokes go 9-1 for the World Hurdle.
There was a shock result in the big handicap on the card, the Goffs Thyestes Chase, Jadanli just holding another 25-1 shot, Tarquinius, for his first success in nearly three years. "We put cheekpieces on him because he is getting a bit more idle," Paul Gilligan, his trainer, said. "But he's been a grand old warrior for us."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Bussa (7.0 Wolverhampton) Winning spree was interrupted when just failing to get away with the drop to 6f last time.
Rhyolite (2.30 Lingfield) Much improved when tried in headgear for his handicap debut, and can run off the same mark in this race.
One to watch
Blue Jack (Stuart Williams) Showed signs of life at Lingfield yesterday and will be placed to advantage by his new trainer soon.
Where the money's going
Bonstons Angel is 10-1 from 12-1 with William Hill for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.