The stage may have been local rep rather than the West End, but the performance lacked nothing in either execution or presentation. Peddlers Cross, third market choice for next month's Champion Hurdle, made his long journey from Cheshire to Kelso for his much-delayed final rehearsal for the Cheltenham prize well worthwhile. His victory in the Morebattle Hurdle was not a wholly effortless tour de force but, given his stop-start build-up, its style was more than satisfactory.
The six-year-old started at 1-6 to beat his eight inferior rivals, and duly landed the odds, by 11 lengths from his most credible opponent, Bygones of Brid. It was apparent for the whole contest that he was a class above; he jumped accurately and efficiently, he travelled comfortably and took the lead at will going to the final obstacle.
The result was never in doubt but, due to a combination of sticky ground and lack of an outing for 82 days – his planned warm-up was waterlogged off and then he succumbed briefly to a bout of coughing – he had, with a couple of firm slaps, to be firmly rousted by Jason Maguire on the testing uphill run to the line to maintain his superiority.
It was a case of job done, with a workout that will have been of far more benefit than a hard-held canter round. "He's been getting a little stale at home," said trainer Donald McCain. "We have built him up for two races recently only to miss both, and we had to switch him off a bit. He'll certainly come on for the run, physically and mentally; Jason said he travelled great and went to the front like a dream, but halfway up the run-in he started to look around at the stands and he had to remind him about his job.
"To be honest I've seen him a lot better, but I'm just glad to get a run into him. We needed to get that out of the way, and now we've got nearly a month to get him spot-on for Cheltenham."
Peddlers Cross, winner of a novices' contest at last year's Festival, is now eight for eight and maintained his position in the Champion Hurdle market in most lists at around 5-1, behind the 3-1 favourite Binocular, second choice Menorah and alongside Hurricane Fly.
To the great credit of McCain and his staff, their star, with due respect to the knowledgeable locals at the little Borders track, was turned out looking a picture, his mane and tail immaculately plaited and braided, doing the saltire on his numbercloth proud.
Peddlers Cross had Binocular back in third when he won at Newbury in November. The horse who split them, though, may not reoppose; Starluck will soon make his public debut over fences with a view to running in the Arkle Trophy. "He seems to enjoy them at home," said trainer Alan Fleming, "and we want to broaden our options with him."
Half a dozen Champion Hurdle long shots, headed by Walkon and Soldatino, turn out this afternoon in the rearranged Totesport Trophy at Newbury. The course has been declared safe for man and, more pertinently, beast after the surreal events last Saturday which left two horses dead in the parade ring. Post-mortems have revealed that poor Marching Song and Fenix Two suffered sudden cardiac arrest, consistent with electrocution.
The field for the Totesport Trophy is eight fewer than its original line-up, and though its prize fund has been reduced by half it is still a respectable £60,000. The bulk can go back to Ireland, courtesy of the Willie Mullins raider Sweet My Lord (1.50).
Chris McGrath's Nap
Aiteen Thirtythree (3.00 Newbury) Impressed on his debut over fences and has the scope to take high rank in the staying novices' division.
Awesome Freddie (12.10 Newbury) Showed an admirable attitude to score on his handicap debut and may have enough improvement in him to defy his subsequent rise in the ratings.
One to watch
Strewth (J Best) Finished strongly to take third on his Lingfield debut last week at a long price. The cat may now be out of the bag, though.
Where the money's going
Punters have taken the hint over Final Approach, who swerves today's feature handicap at Newbury in favour of the County Hurdle. The gelding has been cut to 12s from 16s for the Cheltenham race.