Dunguib juggernaut gathers pace

Top Irish novice appears future Champion Hurdler in crushing Fairyhouse win

These days it is hard to tell if you are watching a horserace or a sequence from Battle Of The Bulge. Harry Findlay long ago nicknamed Denman "The Tank", but it is becoming increasingly difficult not to infringe that copyright with Dunguib, whose ruthless performance at Fairyhouse yesterday confirmed him the most formidable recruit to hurdling in many years.

His name already seems to sit comfortably among the many Cheltenham Festival winners who first made their name in the Royal Bond Hurdle. Admittedly Hurricane Fly, who won the race last year, has yet to bridge the gulf dividing even the best novices from open competition. But it is a measure of Dunguib's prowess that many now reckon he should cut to the chase by taking on Hurricane Fly and company in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle itself.

His trainer, Philip Fenton, is fortunately less excitable, and greeted another frightening show of power by indicating that Dunguib would be kept to the company of novices this season. No less prudently, Fenton is also inclined to sit out the big Christmas meeting at Leopardstown, and instead give him one more run in February before the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Though Dunguib faced only five rivals yesterday, two had managed to beat everything else when chasing him home in the championship bumpers at Cheltenham and Punchestown respectively. As such, this should have been a tougher test than his two previous starts over timber, but once again Dunguib carted Brian O'Connell into the lead after the second last and required only the most perfunctory encouragement to beat Some Present by seven lengths.

The runner-up had lost his place at halfway, while Sweeps Hill was not himself, but all you could ask of Dunguib was to keep those caterpillar tracks rolling. "I'm very relieved, and I suppose you'd have to say very impressed as well," Fenton said. "Apart from being a little free, he seemed in control a long way out, and you'd have to be impressed with his jumping. It's getting better and better and he was excellent over the last two."

Asked about the Champion, Fenton was pretty emphatic. "Novices should stick to novices," he said. "There's always next season, if he looked the job in the Supreme. It's half in our minds to bypass Christmas, because he's not over-robust and doesn't want a huge amount of racing. We don't want to take one step too many."

Dunguib is now as short as 6-4 for the Supreme, though William Hill take the view that March remains a long way off and offer 2-1.

A card salvaged from Sunday's deluges also featured two other Grade One races. Noel Meade has long viewed Pandorama as potentially top-class over fences and, while the grey had only scrambled home in his first steeplechase at Punchestown last month, he landed a gamble in the Drinmore Novice Chase. Once again he jumped left, but that would be less of an issue at Cheltenham and he certainly warrants consideration for the RSA Chase at 14-1 with Ladbrokes.

Though falls for Whatuthink and Roberto Goldback simplified his task, Pandorama closed down Alpha Ridge readily before seeing him off by seven lengths, the pair miles clear. He jumped very well, and significantly retains the right to progress again when his stamina is tested. "He'll be better over three miles," Meade assented. "And you'd have to think he might be better going left-handed. At Punchestown he was up there in front, went left at the first one, and suddenly he was going down every fence and getting worse and worse. He got a lead this time and was totally different. Hopefully, Leopardstown over Christmas will be next. He goes on goodish ground, but I wouldn't like to run him on quick ground."

Two and a half miles also looked a minimum for Oscar Dan Dan when he bravely ran down Ninetieth Minute in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle. "He's come back a different horse this year," Tom Mullins, his trainer, said. "We'll look at the big staying races, and though Big Buck's won't be shivering in his boots, maybe he'll be able to hold his own."

Another top Irish jumper, Captain Cee Bee, makes his chasing debut at Naas today. He beat Binocular in the Supreme Novices' but was pulled up on his next start and has not been seen for 607 days. Little wonder some people are in such a hurry with Dunguib.

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Fabalu (2.25 Market Rasen) A useful staying novice over timber last season, he took to fences with the flair of a former point-to-point winner until tiring on his reappearance at Kelso, and his stable remains in excellent form.

Next best

Prohibition (6.15 Wolverhampton) Absent for over a year since a maiden success at Nottingham, and William Haggas will presumably only have persevered with him in the belief that he can be competitive off this rating.

One to watch

Jass (K G Reveley) was a disappointing favourite for the Eider Chase as a novice but some such prize looks guaranteed this year, to judge by the way he finished for fourth after losing his position at Newcastle last Saturday.

Where the money's going

Progressive handicapper Fix The Rib is 16-1 from 25-1 with Paddy Power for the Keith Prowse Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday.