His own infirmities would seem far more likely to undermine Hurricane Fly's dominion than the potency of any rival. It was unnerving, then, to learn that the champion hurdler so disappointed in a routine canter yesterday that his comeback – scheduled for Punchestown on Sunday – is now to be postponed until the Leopardstown Christmas meeting.
Imperious in the Champion Hurdle last season, Hurricane Fly had missed the two previous Festivals with injury. When everything is functioning, he looks the best hurdler since Istabraq. But he is evidently not matching that status at home, for now, and is 7-4 from 6-4 by Coral for the defence of his crown in March.
Happily, his trainer reports no new structural problem. "I was just not happy with him," Willie Mullins explained. "A good few of mine have been backward, and I was conscious of ante-post betting on the race so didn't want to wait until Friday. He'll not run until I'm happy with him again – and at the moment I'm gearing him towards Christmas."
A treble at Fairyhouse in the afternoon comforted Mullins that his string is now finding its rhythm, with Sous Les Cieux especially impressive in a maiden hurdle. "He shows a lot at home and while he's still a bit novicey, he'll be better horse in a race with more pace," Mullins said. "He'll have no trouble coming back to two miles, and I'd not be afraid to bring him anywhere."
Another reigning Cheltenham champion does remain on course for his reappearance this weekend, with Long Run lining up for the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday. Before finally surrendering centre stage to the jumpers, however, Flat racing's elite gathered in Mayfair on Tuesday evening to salute its finest achievers of 2011.
Seldom in the 21-year history of the Cartier Awards can Horse of the Year have been less contentious. Frankel's trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, had been knighted earlier in the day and received this latest honour – alongside Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to Khaled Abdullah – with due satisfaction. "Every sport needs a champion," Cecil said. "And Frankel, though slightly wayward to begin with, seems to have settled down and decided he wants to be one. As long as everything goes right, and he gets through the winter, then next year there's a chance he might go on from strength to strength. Let's hope he does, for the good of racing and the racing public."
Invoking the late American trainer in whose honour the colt was named, Grimthorpe remarked: "I think when future champions come to be judged, they'll find the bar has been set very high by Bobby Frankel, Henry Cecil and Frankel himself."
The Award of Merit went to Barry Hills, who ended a 42-year training career this summer. "I'd like to think racing could be kept fun," he said. "It's a game of intrigue, fascination and it wants a bit of spice in it."
Unabashed, the British Horseracing Authority yesterday detailed a series of fresh disciplinary cases – one of which concerns explanations offered by Kieren Fallon for failing to arrive in time for his first two rides at Chester on 5 May. He faces an inquiry on Monday.
Chris McGrath's nap
Dissent (5.50 Kempton)
Handicapper has been cautious with this one, who had little to beat in his maiden last time, but easy to see why after he did the job with such flair.
Barrie Burn (2.50 Market Rasen)
Well backed on his return, having shown glimpses of promise as a novice, and went strongly for a long way until starting to hang and pulled up three out.
One to watch
Sir Roger (Jonjo O'Neill) has hinted at ability for the longer term.
Where the money's going King Of The Night is 3-1 from 7-2 with the sponsors for the Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.