The loss of Cheltenham today was rued not only by thousands who had relied on the meeting for their customary New Year's Day hangover cure, but also by those seeking a remedy for Oscar Whisky. Nicky Henderson had hoped to give the horse another run over the intermediate distance of two and a half miles, but instead ended up parading him to Channel 4 viewers in a live broadcast from his stables. And the trainer disclosed that waterlogging at Cheltenham had now forced his hand, in the ongoing debate over Oscar Whisky's eligibility for big races over two miles or three.
Though implored by some pundits to drop Oscar Whisky in trip, Henderson has now resolved to give him another chance at three miles in the Cleeve Hurdle back at Cheltenham on 26 January. He finished a well-beaten fifth behind Big Buck's in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival last year – but the champion is now out for the season and Henderson remains eager to try out Oscar Whisky for the vacancy.
"I'm still not convinced about last year's World Hurdle," Henderson said. "He would not have won at two and a half, and that is what confuses me. I don't think he was right. He was punch-drunk at the end, he couldn't stand up. Our main objective is a third Aintree Hurdle, but I'm still not going to lie down about this three-mile bit. I cannot believe he's not going to get three. The obvious thing to do is to use the Cleeve Hurdle, just try three miles once and for all, and answer the question. If the answer is no, then fine. He either comes back to the Champion or we just wait for Aintree."
Henderson would hardly want to complicate still further his route to the Champion Hurdle, as he is already struggling to keep apart Darlan, Grandouet and Binocular.
The rain has also put today's card at Ayr under threat. Lucinda Russell and Donald McCain will be anxious that the meeting passes an inspection this morning, squaring up as they do with useful prospects in each of the first three races. Tap Night, Russell's first horse for J P McManus, makes his chasing debut against Diocles, rated by McCain as better than he was able to show even in winning two of his three starts over hurdles last season.
McCain is enjoying another terrific campaign, and today became the first British trainer to 100 winners this season when Dungeel scored at Catterick. Things could scarcely have been more trying, in contrast, for Victor Dartnall, forced to quarantine his stables for several weeks up to Christmas – and matters did not improve at Exeter, where the smart Ambion Wood finished tailed off last of five on his first start over fences.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Lastkingofscotland (5.20 Kempton) Ended a sequence of near misses when everything came together in dazzling fashion last time.
Miss Bunter (4.10 Wolverhampton) Unexposed after just four starts, and made a good start in handicaps off this mark round here last week.
One to watch
Aupcharlie (Willie Mullins) Went with plenty of dash before being worn down by a classy stablemate in an elite novice chase at Leopardstown, and could do better still back over shorter.