Hardy's annual Festival trip takes diversion

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The Independent Online

Dual Champion Hurdle hero Hardy Eustace will try to record a notable first at Cheltenham when he steps up to the three miles of the World Hurdle on Thursday week. No horse has yet won both shorter and longer senior hurdles titles, but then, he will be only the third to try, after Comedy Of Errors and Gaye Brief.

Trainer Dessie Hughes had been keeping options open for Laurence Byrne's 11-year-old, who will be making his sixth successive visit to the Festival, but confirmed his target yesterday. "We'll let him take his chance in the stayers' race," he said. "He just can't be as quick as he used to be, so this should suit him better." Hardy Eustace is 10-1 for the World Hurdle, with Inglis Drever the evens favourite.

Comedy Of Errors, who won the Champion Hurdle in 1973 and 1975, and Gaye Brief, who took the prize in 1983, were trained at Kinnersley, the former by Fred Rimell and the latter by his widow, Mercy, and both had two cracks at the race then called the Stayers' Hurdle. Comedy Of Errors finished 5th in 1977 and 11th a year later and Gaye Brief notched two fourth places, in 1988 and 1989.

"It was a natural progression for them," said Mercy yesterday. "They'd lost some of their speed as they got older, they were too good for handicaps, so we had to go somewhere with them. The stayers' race, though, should not be underestimated. It is a really tough test and sometimes I think, it doesn't get the respect it deserves."

Comedy Of Errors was the most talented of the pair; indeed, only Night Nurse, Persian War and Monksfield are above him in all-time ratings. He started 9-4 favourite for his first Stayers' Hurdle, at the age of 10, but came in more than 30 lengths behind the winner, Town Ship.

Like Hardy Eustace, he had run in the four Champion Hurdles, with a second and a fourth to add to his two victories. Gaye Brief, though he was in the frame in two Champions after his win, had an injury-punctuated career and was 11 when he tackled his first Stayers', four years after his brother Gaye Chance won it.

"Comedy had the class, but was a doubtful stayer," added Rimell, "and Gaye Brief was certain to stay – all his family did – but was not as good. In fact, he was not as good as Gaye Chance."

One who will be going to the Champion Hurdle, a week today, is the reigning king Sublimity, who completed his last serious work with an away day at Leopardstown yesterday. Accompanied by two stablemates, the eight-year-old went a mile and six furlongs round the Co Dublin track, with big-race jockey Philip Carberry in the saddle.

"It went very well," said Co Meath-based trainer John Carr. "I could not be happier with the way he sprinted away from them in the straight."

Sublimity has raced only once since beating Brave Inca last March, when he finished a ring-rusty fourth to Osana at Cheltenham in December, but Carberry confirmed that the gelding is on song again. "He felt very good," he said. "In fact, he felt as good as I have ever felt him."

Tony McCoy also flexed his muscles in a racecourse gallop yesterday, when he rode in public for the first time since the fall in January that kept him out of the saddle for 45 days. The Irishman has been riding out for a week, since being passed fit by his doctor, but will not see an independent specialist until Thursday and is unlikely to race-ride until Sunday at the earliest.

After racing at Stratford yesterday he was on board Jonjo O'Neill-trained Black Jack Ketchum, who holds a World Hurdle entry, and galloped a circuit. "I feel great," said McCoy, "and the horse feels in good order, giving me signs that he's coming back to his old self."

The first chance to earn prize-money at Cheltenham comes on Saturday, through the Imperial Cup, for there is a £75,000 bonus put up by sponsors Sunderlands to any horse who can add a Festival race to victory in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Sandown. Martin Pipe has won it with Olympian in 1993 and Blowing Wind 10 years ago, and 12 months ago son David doubled up with Gaspara, who went on to take the Fred Winter Hurdle. The Pipe stable has seven entries on Saturday, of whom Ashkazar, well-backed for the Triumph Hurdle, has been installed 5-1 favourite.

Chris McGrath

Nap: John Dillon(Newcastle 3.20)

NB: Super Baby (Newcastle 3.50)

Kauto Star or Denman? The professionals give their verdicts

*The Cheltenham Gold Cup encounter between the steeplechasing giants Kauto Star and Denman has dominated the turf all season. Today, Donald McCain, he trainer of Grand National favourite Cloudy Lane, gives his view.

'I've always been a big fan of Denman. He's a big, old fashioned chaser who is a pleasure to watch. He gallops and jumps and grinds rivals into the ground and I think there's something very admirable about horses that race that way. But it's a hard one to call. KAUTO STAR is the one that has done it, and listening to Paul [Nicholls] the other day on the side of Kauto I might just be changing allegiance. It would be great to see them going to the last upsides and then let the best man win from there.'