Emerging hurdling talent Peddlers Cross, who took the scalp of Binocular on Saturday on his first venture into the senior ranks, is unlikely to cross swords with the reigning king again until the Champion Hurdle. The new kid on the block will skip the next date on the top-level domestic two-mile circuit, next month's Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, in favour of the Grade Two trial at Haydock in January.
The five-year-old took his unbeaten run to seven in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newbury, a sequence that includes two victories over two and a half miles. The sharp Sunbury test is not considered one to play to his strengths, even though it is now established that they do include a highly effective burst of acceleration. "The speed he's got scares me to death," said trainer Donald McCain yesterday, "and he showed at Newbury what we see at home. But even so, Kempton would be the least likely track you'd want to send him to."
Binocular, who was more than seven lengths adrift on Saturday, with Starluck intervening, was ring-rusty on his seasonal reappearance – he jumped well but the outing will tighten him up physically – and trainer Nicky Henderson was quick to point out that the big day for which he will be honed is more than three months away.
But neither was Peddlers Cross, now alongside Irish challenger Hurricane Fly as second-favourite behind Binocular for the Festival showpiece in most lists, fully wound up. "I'm sure the other horses will improve," said McCain, "but so will we. Once he gets to the front he doesn't do a lot, but when Starluck came at him he picked up again. What he does is keep winning, which is what the job is about, and we still haven't got to the bottom of him."
The opportunity to see some of Ireland's title contenders, including Hurricane Fly, yesterday was lost with the meeting at snowbound Fairyhouse, now rescheduled for Thursday. Prospects in Britain are bleak. Some jumps cards this week have already been cancelled. There is an inspection at Folkestone this morning and Saturday's Tingle Creek meeting at Sandown is under threat.
Saturday's two chasing heroes, the Hennessy Gold Cup winner Diamond Harry and the gallant third Denman, were reported to have emerged from the contest unscathed. Denman will not appear again until the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Diamond Harry just once. The Lexus Chase at Leopardstown after Christmas or a prep at Cheltenham in January are the options pencilled in by trainer Nick Williams.
Today may be decision day forlast season's Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, whose meeting with Kauto Star in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day has been in the balance since he suffered a cut leg winning return at Haydock nine days ago. "The wound is still open, but it's healing better every day," said the nine-year-old's trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies. "But he hasn't been out of his box since Haydock."
This week could be crucial to Noel Fehily, who suffered a suspected fractured wrist soon after being named as Kauto Star's rider at Kempton, replacing seriously injured Ruby Walsh. Fehily will see a specialist tomorrow and has not yet abandoned hope of partnering the great horse.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Sheila's Star (3.50 Wolverhampton)
Won last time despite a troubled passage and the way she stayed on under pressure that day suggests that today's furlong-longer trip should be within her capabilities.
Monte Major (3.20 Wolverhampton)
Reliable type who has already won eight times over today's course and has a senior rider back on board after two efforts in apprentice hands.
One to watch
Quartz de Thaix (V Williams), a ready and improving winner over hurdles at Aintree last week, looks sure to continue his progress when sent back over fences.
Where the money's going
Tony McCoy has hardened as favourite to be crowned the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year next month, now 8-11 from 4-5 with Ladbrokes. Golfer Graeme McDowell is 4-1 second favourite for a one-two for Northern Ireland.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Desert Location (4.50 Wolverhampton).