Pushed right out by his jockey and bookmakers alike, Peddlers Cross at least got his career back on track with a win at Musselburgh. Having been driven out pretty firmly to see off a rival officially rated 35lb his inferior in a race more or less devised for his benefit, he was eased to 14-1 from 10-1 by Coral for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham next month. But while his trainer confessed to similar reservations at first, the debriefing of his jockey appeared to bring Donald McCain round to a far more positive view of his performance.
Peddlers Cross was returning to hurdles after an experiment over fences last season ended in disappointment, tailed off as favourite for the Jewson Novices' Chase at the Festival. Having resurfaced in a jumpers' bumper at Kempton last month, he started 1-5 to see off just three rivals – one of them his own pacemaker – for the Howies Restaurants Edinburgh Hurdle. Jumping slickly, he pulled his way into the lead with three to jump and looked certain to cruise clear. But he seemed to lose focus somewhat, before responding to Jason Maguire's reminders on the run-in to win by just under two lengths from Cue To Cue.
Maguire soon persuaded McCain that Peddlers Cross had merely been idling. "He has always been lazy in front and Jason just had to give him a couple of belts to go away," the trainer said. "We won't see the best of these horses until they go a championship pace. If you could see what we see every day, you'd know Peddlers Cross hasn't changed. His jumping was exceptional. Jason wondered why we ever tried fences, he was so good again today."
Those pleas in mitigation seem well worth heeding. Prior to last year's flop, Peddlers Cross had been beaten by only one of 26 rivals in his first two visits to Cheltenham – Hurricane Fly in the 2011 Champion Hurdle – and the way he had rallied up the hill after being headed over two miles and five furlongs as a novice suggests he will be well suited by a first crack at three this time round.
Peddlers Cross remained among 33 candidates for the vacancy created by injury to Big Buck's when the latest acceptors had been published earlier in the day. But another division is so dominated by one horse that even now a single-figure field is guaranteed for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Already relieved of his most feasible rival, with Flemenstar sidelined by a lung infection, Sprinter Sacre could yet deter some of only eight other entries from lining up, as several have been given the option of the Ryanair Chase.
After showcasing a good one, the Scottish circuit could volunteer another when proceeding to one of its most engaging occasions at Kelso on Thursday. Duke Of Navan is shaping up as a useful novice and, assuming the track passes an inspection this morning, seeks to maintain his progress in the Betvictor Morebattle Hurdle.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Evergreen Forest (7.0 Kempton) Has produced his two best runs in blinkers over course and distance, well clear of third when heavily backed last time.
Diplomatic (5.30 Kempton) Better than ever since being fitted with cheekpieces and teaming up with a gifted claimer.
Where's the money going
Tidal Bay is 14-1 from 16-1 with Coral for the John Smith's Grand National, while Beshabar is 25-1. from 33-1.