When a boy beats men, notice is entitled to be taken. Yesterday at Taunton the four-year-old hurdler Ranjaan, having just his fourth outing over obstacles, outclassed a field of seasoned handicappers, older and much more streetwise rivals. He thus cemented his claims for the Cheltenham Festival, where he will be taking on his contemporaries in the Triumph Hurdle.
It is true that Ranjaan, trained by Paul Nicholls, was favoured by the weights yesterday, but the experience in winning in such company will only have been a positive one and, but for a couple of untidy leaps for Daryl Jacob late in the piece, his winning margin would have been greater than three and a half lengths.
The French-bred son of Dubai Destination, now as short as 10-1 for the Festival's juvenile showpiece, has a physique full of scope and, after travelling powerfully throughout the race, had the energy and attitude after he passed the winning line to throw in an extra leap to clear a footpath crossing the track.
Tomorrow, Nicholls will try the deep-end tactic again as he sends his hugely talented young chaser Al Ferof into battle against infinitely more battle-hardened types in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot. "You want to get some experience into a horse before Cheltenham," he said, "so you may as well run against good opposition as bad."
Al Ferof, one of last term's top two-mile novice hurdlers, has had two runs over fences, compared with the 27 of one of his seven rivals, Oiseau de Nuit. The seven-year-old grey's prime Cheltenham target is the two-mile beginners' crown, the Arkle Trophy, but he is well-regarded enough to have also been given an entry in the senior equivalent, the Champion Chase – the third favourite for which, Finian's Rainbow, is tomorrow's market leader.
"The Arkle is his race," added Nicholls of Al Ferof, "and if all the good ones turn up in the Champion Chase, I can't see that being any different. But you never know what might happen and if you don't enter, you can't go."
The day before his weighing room colleagues will meet the sport's authorities to further debate the contentious rules and penalties for use and misuse of the whip, Flat rider Robert Winston failed in his appeal against a 22-day ban picked up at Southwell last week.
The rider was penalised for excessive use of the whip and for giving his mount, Zenarinda, forehand smacks down her shoulder, which is forbidden except to correct a horse's direction. Winston maintained that the shoulder slaps were indeed a safety measure, as the filly was hanging towards a rival, but the disciplinary panel did not agree.
At another hearing the Godolphin jockey Ahmed Ajtebi, currently riding in Dubai, escaped with a caution over a random racecourse alcohol test he narrowly failed in September.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Distime (2.40 Catterick) Showed a good attitude under pressure to score last time and, as an Irish pointing winner, longer trip will help on his handicap debut.
Sire De Grugy (2.20 Chepstow) Progressive novice last term and may have enough class to shrug off top-weight and his long absence in conditions that should suit.
Where the money's going
Kid Cassidy has been cut to 16-1 from 20s for the Arkle Trophy after winning at Ludlow yesterday.