The meeting at Cheltenham on Saturday, the final one staged there before the Festival in March, is nowadays billed as Trials Day. For trainers and punters alike, however, there already seems to be at least one Tribulations Day every week. The ink had barely dried on a setback to Ireland's principal Gold Cup hope, Pandorama, when yesterday brought an abrupt derailment to perhaps the biggest gamble of the season to date – as well as an alarming bulletin for those still clinging to the wreckage of Dunguib's attempt to justify an even bigger plunge at the Festival last year.
Tocca Ferro, so impressive at Newbury last time, had been so heavily backed for the Totesport Gold Trophy over the same course next month that many plainly anticipated him entering the equation for the Stan James Champion Hurdle itself. Yesterday, however, his heartbroken trainer revealed that her stable star would miss the rest of the campaign. "Tocca Ferro is suffering from a small tear in a tendon," Emma Lavelle said. "He worked very well at Kempton on Tuesday, and I'm absolutely gutted."
The trainer of Dunguib admitted time is running out for his proposed comeback in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park on 12 February. Brilliant winner of the 2009 Festival Bumper, Dunguib acquitted himself very creditably when odds-on for his return over hurdles last year, set plenty to do against one who has since broken into the elite, Menorah. But a poor blood test ruled him out of a comeback at Leopardstown last weekend, and Philip Fenton admitted: "We're beginning to panic a little bit that he won't be ready for the Red Mills, and won't be able to run him before Cheltenham."
Fenton warned that Dunguib would be given an entry for the Coral Cup, a handicap over two miles and five furlongs, scarcely the encouragement sought by those backing him for the Champion Hurdle.
Several interesting runners enliven proceedings today, in very different environments. Table Mountain, who won twice for Aidan O'Brien last year before changing hands for 200,000 guineas, makes his debut for Robbie Hennessy in a juvenile hurdle at Thurles, and The Minack tests his status as one of the best novice chasers at Ditcheat in a small field at Warwick.
Half a world away, at Meydan, Presvis returns from a long break on the third card of the Dubai International Carnival. Having swiftly accumulated nearly £2m in 2009, via Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore, Presvis seemed to have lost his way by the time he completed another demanding international schedule, at Royal Ascot last June. According to Charles Henson, assistant trainer to Luca Cumani, the horse is "certain to improve for the run".
Another British stable involved in the Al Rashidiya Stakes, a Group Two prize over nine furlongs, already merits congratulation. Roger Teal still has only a modest string at Epsom, in just his fourth season as a trainer, but was suitably rewarded for his enterprise when Steele Tango became the first British winner of the Carnival in a valuable handicap two weeks ago.
"That was a dream come true," Teal said. "I had the excitement of travelling around the world with Running Stag, under Philip Mitchell, but to have a horse win under your own name is fantastic. After his last run he deserves a chance."
Paintball (1.10 Warwick) Decent type on the Flat, who travelled powerfully round another sharp track on his hurdling debut at Huntingdon, only narrowly run out of it.
Oscar Prairie (3.55 Warwick) Just flattened out over three miles last season and two miles has looked a shade sharp this term, so this intermediate test looks ideal for his chasing debut.
One to watch
Fujin Dancer (Brian Ellison) Looked unlucky at Market Rasen on Sunday, badly hampered between the last two, then hitting the final flight, before regrouping for third under amateur rider.
Where the money's going
Bensalem is 14-1 from 16-1 with the sponsors for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival in March.