One of the potentially most informative and certainly most anticipated clashes ahead of next month's Cheltenham Festival is off. The unbeaten Peddlers Cross was yesterday ruled out of any Champion Hurdle prep at the weekend after giving a warning sign at morning exercise that his health was not 100 per cent. "He gave a cough as he came off the gallops," said his trainer, Donald McCain, "and that has scuppered our plans."
Those plans had actually not been finalised, but Peddlers Cross was due to take on either Nicky Henderson's Binocular in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown or the reigning champion's upwardly mobile younger stablemate Oscar Whisky in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las. This frustration is his second in rapid succession; his preferred Cheltenham warm-up was at frozen-off Haydock 11 days ago.
Peddlers Cross, seven for seven, had Binocular behind when the pair met at Newbury on their seasonal debuts in November and must now wait until next month's Festival for the rematch. "We'll have to play it by ear now," added McCain. "He'll be the one to tell us what the next move is." Binocular is favourite to retain his crown, ahead of Hurricane Fly, with Peddlers Cross and Menorah vying for third spot.
Looking further ahead, there were no real surprise inclusions or omissions in the public's favourite race yesterday, but the revelation of the entries for the Grand National is always something of a seminal moment. At least you'll know whether your fancy has the possibility of giving you a run for your money, though the probability will become clearer next week with the publication of the weights. There are 102 names on the list for Aintree's John Smiths-sponsored April showpiece, but they will be whittled down to 40, in order of rating, by the big day.
The five-times champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has fielded 48 runners over 19 years without success, heads the numbers with a ten-strong squad led by Neptune Collonges and What A Friend and including Ornais, who runs at Wincanton today. The early favourite, at around 16-1, is the McCain-trained Ballabriggs, unbeaten in three chases last year and in two hurdle contests this term.
The £950,000 purse for this National may be its richest ever, but is as small change alongside next month's $10m Dubai World Cup. This evening at Meydan five Group or Grade One winners, including the Newmarket-trained Gitano Hernando, line up in one of the key trials.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
A French Horse (4.10 Towcester) Did well against more experienced rivals on his chasing debut.
Sail Home (3.00 Southwell) Got off the mark over today's course and distance last month.
One to watch
Proud Times' jumping let him down on his debut but compensation awaits.
Where the money's going
Some Target was the subject of a plunge yesterday for the National Hunt Chase.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Forever's Girl (5.00 Wolverhampton).