Not even the best horses are immune from blips, whether at home or on the track, so nobody should be taking anything for granted when Dunguib continues his hurdling education at Fairyhouse this afternoon. Yesterday, for instance, one of the few jumpers in Ireland who can do similar things for the pulse rate, Cooldine, was scratched from his intended comeback race this weekend after disappointing in his work. So the only guarantee today is that Dunguib will prove worth the price of admission – which, following the unexpected abandonment of the same card on Sunday, is free.
Those in a position to take advantage will be rewarded not only by the most earnest test of Dunguib's new career, but also by two other Grade One races. The conditions will obviously be pretty demanding, having been unraceable as recently as Sunday, but these races do have a reliable habit of producing champions. The Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, for instance, was won last year by Hurricane Fly, and the names of Moscow Flyer, Hardy Eustace and Istabraq are others carved on the roll of honour.
Dunguib looks such a freak that he is certainly evoking memories of the young Istabraq. The things he can do on the bridle are little short of terrifying. After annihilating all comers in bumper races last season, he has been just as imperious in two starts over timber. He meets better horses today, admittedly, in Some Present and Sweeps Hill. We know that because they beat all the rest in chasing home Dunguib at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals respectively. As it happens, Sweeps Hill was later promoted to first, after a worming treatment for Dunguib proved to contain a prohibited substance, but nobody was under any illusions over their relative merit on the day.
Sweeps Hill did beat Some Present when they each made their second start over timber, at Punchestown in October, but you see cortèges moving quicker and the bare form counts for nothing. Some Present was again caught out in a sprint finish at Cheltenham last month, and a stablemate in the same colours may well try to guarantee the pace today.
Noel Meade dominates the Drinmore Novice Chase, Pandorama having long promised to come into his own over fences and Jered being best of these over hurdles. Meade, who yesterday announced the retirement of one of his most cherished horses in Harchibald, had three winners at Fairyhouse last Saturday as well as Go Native in the big race at Newcastle. But Jered has not looked a total natural in two chases, while Pandorama lost ground by jumping left before winning his maiden chase at Punchestown. Whatuthink might offer better value, now his stamina is likely to be examined for the first time over fences.
Catch Me suspends his own novice chasing campaign, after a fall at Navan last time, for the Hatton's Grace Hurdle – a prize he won last year, and one that again looks within his competence with Hardy Eustace now persevering towards his 13th birthday.
As for Cooldine, his name was missing from just six acceptors for the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown on Sunday. Willie Mullins, his trainer, must now decide whether to go there with Barker, or to stick to two miles at Sandown the previous day. "Cooldine just didn't work smart enough," Mullins explained. "There's nothing wrong with him, but there wouldn't be much for him before Christmas now."
Cooldine was a brilliant winner of the RSA Chase but would now seem likely to face a tough resumption against seasoned chasers, either in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown or the William Hill King VI Chase at Kempton, against Kauto Star. "I would imagine it would be very hard to make that trip first time out," Mullins acknowledged. "But we'll just have to see how his work improves in the meantime."
Meade intends to run Aran Concerto, while it will be fascinating to have another look at In Compliance, as well. Once the great green hope, he seemed a new horse when making his first start for Dessie Hughes at Thurles last month. Cooldine, plainly, still has time on his side.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Skippers Brig (1.25 Ayr) Still unexposed over fences and made an encouraging start for his new stable when third at Bangor last month, travelling so strongly that he should cope with the return to this trip.
Sydney Sling (1.10 Catterick) Confirmed himself on a winning mark when prematurely eased at Ludlow the other day – his inexperienced jockey was given a 10-day ban – and should make no mistake back under Paul Maloney this time.
One to watch
Trafalgar Road (C E Longsdon) struggled to get involved off a quickening pace at Newbury on Saturday, albeit keeping on for third, and promises improvement when his stamina is properly tested.
Where the money's going
Twist Magic is 7-2 from 4-1 with Coral to profit from the absence of Master Minded in the Keith Prowse Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday.