Melodic Rendezvous calls the tune in sticky test

Champion Hurdle outsider outpaces Zarkandar to earn his chance at Cheltenham if conditions suit

Trials are all very well, but the value of some traditional pointers for the Cheltenham Festival remains to be seen. Yesterday's rehearsals, as has been the norm during this wet and soggy winter, favoured horses who exhibited qualities more associated with 4x4s than high-octane sports models.

But there has not been a heavy-ground start to jump racing's showcase occasion since 1982, and most bookmakers continue to dismiss the game's mudlarks on the assumption that it will indeed one day stop raining.

The weather gods, or perhaps more prosaically the behaviour of the jet stream, will decide the wisdom of leaving a Champion Hurdle contender such as Melodic Rendezvous as an outsider. At Wincanton yesterday the admirable eight-year-old took his win score to six from eight over obstacles with a cosy success over solid yardstick Zarkandar in the last of the recognised preps for the Cheltenham two-mile crown, the Kingwell Hurdle.

Given a cool, composed ride by Nick Scholfield, he showed smart acceleration – a feat in itself given the testing underfoot conditions – to squeeze though a gap between his rival and the rails on the run-in and score by half a length.

Other Cheltenham prospects have beaten Zarkandar by further – notably The New One and Annie Power this season – and Melodic Rendezvous remains as long as 25-1 for the Champion Hurdle. But under his favoured conditions, he should not be underestimated. And neither did yesterday's race pan out as the gelding's trainer, Jeremy Scott, had hoped. "The others ignored my pacemaker [Notarfbad], which I feared they might," he said, "and it all turned into a bit of a sprint off the bend for home. So it was lovely to see him pick up and battle.

"The ground was not only heavy but sticky, and I'm not sure he was enjoying it. If conditions are OK for him, not too quick, he'll take his chance in the Champion. I don't know if he'll be good enough to shake up Hurricane Fly, but he deserves to take his chance. And he would not be without an each-way chance."

A few minutes after Melodic Rendezvous presented his credentials, one of Ireland's rising young stars followed suit at Gowran Park. Un Des Sceaux, like Hurricane Fly trained by Willie Mullins, had little more than an exercise gallop as he made undeniably impressive short work of three rivals, taking his unbeaten run to seven and confirming himself a powerful understudy to his stablemate, the reigning and dual champion.

Whatever the conditions when Cheltenham opens four weeks on Tuesday, one yard has been making hay when the sun doesn't shine. In January, 18 of Venetia Williams's charges ploughed through the mud to give their trainer her best-ever monthly score, and February has continued with a similar splash. Yesterday Rigadin Du Beauchene, ridden by apprentice Robert Dunne, became No 16 as he took Haydock's Grand National Trial, followed in for good measure by stablemate Emperor's Choice.

It was a fine conditioning effort by Williams and her team, for although Rigadin De Beauchene had finished runner-up in the marathon 12 months previously, he had not been seen in public since last April. "We had planned a race for him before Christmas," she said, "but he was scoping badly and we had to abandon that and aim for this instead."

Rigadin De Beauchene is not entered in the National, but last year's Aintree third, Teaforthree, most certainly is, and is now favourite to go two better after a fine effort in defeat at Ascot. The 10-year-old, trained by Rebecca Curtis, went under by just a neck to a resurgent Restless Harry in the three-mile handicap, conceding the winner 8lb, and is now as short as 10-1 National favourite.

Horses for courses is a time-honoured cliché, as Captain Chris tends to show at the Berkshire track. Yesterday in the Ascot Chase he gained compensation for last year's unlucky loss in the Grade One contest, outclassing the opposition to come home 19 lengths clear under Richard Johnson. The classy 10-year-old is infinitely better going right-handed, and so remains about 25-1 for the Gold Cup around left-handed Cheltenham.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee