Pandorama new great green hope

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The Independent Online

Between the worldly temptations of the Scoop6, on the one hand, and another Kauto Star trauma for idealists, on the other, the sport was rather too distracted over the weekend to register the emergence of a genuine new sensation in Ireland.

But there already seems little doubt that Pandorama, if he is not careful, will find himself bearing the Irish standard at Cheltenham in March. His trainer, Noel Meade, has had some atrocious luck at the Festival over the years, but perhaps he is finally going to have the last laugh. Winner of two bumpers by an aggregate of 36 lengths, Pandorama had cruised home in a maiden hurdle at Navan earlier in the month, and on Sunday returned to the same track to produce one of the most extraordinary exhibitions anyone present could remember by a young jumper. It was not just the manner of his success, which was again outrageous; it was the fact that, this time, he was up again some extremely competent rivals. Alpha Ridge, for instance, had won his last three starts, his latest one by 25 lengths. But while he finished a distance clear of the third, Alpha Ridge could not live with Pandorama, who eased past him three out and drew 26 lengths clear at his leisure.

In fact, the only concern at this stage might be that Pandorama is doing everything too easily, and learning little for the championship tests that beckon in the new year. "But he ran in a couple of points last year, and his jumping seems pretty good really," Meade said yesterday. "He did make one mistake, when he launched himself at the third last, but otherwise he was very good. He's a very big horse, and basically he's going to be a chaser in time. In fact, we were contemplating going straight over fences with him, after his bumpers, just as Willie Mullins did with Florida Pearl. But we decided to give him one go over hurdles, to see how he got on, and he was so good that we had to keep going."

After Sunday's race Meade had been candidly awed. "Wow, that would keep you dreaming!" he exclaimed. But he did warn that the horse might not be so effective on fast ground, which presumably might become an issue at some of the spring carnivals.

For now Pandorama is as short as 4-1 favourite with Blue Square for the Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, though Coral still offer 7-1. "Obviously I'm hoping the ground will be all right in March," Meade said. "He did win on goodish ground at Fairyhouse, and though I'm sure he's better on soft, that's basically on the principle that he stays very well."

His next date is back at Navan on 14 December – for a race Meade won, two years ago, with another great green hope in Aran Concerto. Sadly that horse disappeared with leg trouble at the end of the same season, and only reappeared at Navan, in a novice chase, on the day Pandorama won his maiden hurdle.

Jumping safely, Aran Concerto won comfortably but passed a bigger test the next morning when Meade was relieved to find his legs cool. A top-class performance is likely to be necessary at Fairyhouse on Sunday, however, with Forpadydeplasterer, Tranquil Sea and Breedsbreeze among those converging on the Bar-One Drinmore Chase. "Aran Concerto did get a bit tired at Navan, but he jumped well," Meade said. "He'll work in the morning and if I'm happy with him he'll run on Sunday." Meade also had tidings of another frustrated talent in Nicanor, still the only horse ever to have beaten Denman. "We did have him nearly ready to run, but then he banged a shin," he explained. "So we've had to wait with him, again. He's swimming at the moment but I hope he'll be back cantering in a fortnight, so hopefully he'll be out after Christmas."

Denman's is, of course, the latest name engraved on the roll of honour for the Hennessy Gold Cup, at Newbury on Saturday. His trainer, Paul Nicholls, left four in the race yesterday, identifying the ante-post favourite, Big Buck's, and the Munster National winner, Dear Villez, as the pick.