Dynaste, the long-standing favourite for the RSA Chase, was switched to the Jewson Novices' Chase as connections reconciled themselves to unusually demanding conditions at Cheltenham this week.
They had hoped a wet winter might relent in time to produce the sort of spring ground that has reliably transformed the agenda at so many Festivals. But the entire track has been covered in frost blankets, which are likely to introduce a dead, tacky quality to conditions beneath. David Pipe has duly resolved to run Dynaste over two and a half miles on Thursday, rather than three the previous day. "Touch wood, he's the best in either race," the trainer said. "We thought that on the ground the RSA could be a real slog, so we've leant towards the Jewson."
Coral make the grey 7-4 favourite to vindicate that decision, and trimmed Boston Bob to 11-4 from 3-1 for the RSA. Runner-up over hurdles at last year's Festival, Boston Bob certainly looks tailor-made for the demands of the race. He has made fairly heavy weather of winning both starts over fences in Ireland, but the extra distance will suit and his trainer, Willie Mullins, considers his jumping a major asset.
The official going is soft on both the Old Course, used tomorrow and the next day, and the New Course, reserved for Thursday and Friday. Each was covered in turn over the weekend, a total of 630 sheets being deployed over 65 acres – the equivalent of 45 football pitches. Around 60 groundstaff will need two and a half hours to uncover the Old Course before racing starts tomorrow.
Three previous winners – Binocular, Hurricane Fly and Rock On Ruby – were among just nine declarations for the first big race of the meeting, the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Rock On Ruby will wear blinkers, a conspicuous punt on the part of his rookie trainer, Harry Fry.
Meanwhile, even regaining the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday with Long Run would seem unlikely to qualify as the highlight of the week for his amateur rider, Sam Waley-Cohen, who yesterday celebrated the birth of his first child, Max.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Pindar (5.10 Plumpton)
In good heart for his new stable, despite mistakes over fences, and rider's claim makes him look dangerously weighted back over timber.
Next best: Minella For Party (3.20 Taunton)
Looks on a fair mark for his handicap debut.
One to watch: Kazlian (David Pipe) looked ahead of his rating at Sandown on Saturday, committed a long way out and run down only by a couple of closers.
Where the money's going: Sizing Europe is 5-1 from 6-1 with William Hill to turn over Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday.
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