Conditions could hardly be more inimical to the brilliance that identified Simonsig as the outstanding novice hurdler of last season when he turns his attention to fences at Ascot this afternoon.
Nicky Henderson, his trainer, launches the grey into heavy ground with due trepidation, but feels he would gain little in further deferring a comeback delayed by a slight relapse last month. It is not as if the going is going to dry out any time soon, and Simonsig already has a limited window to gain experience of his new vocation before returning to Cheltenham in March.
Only four rivals take on Simonsig, none remotely pretending to the class he showed in winning at the Festival last season. Instead he must overcome a more insidious foe, and Henderson admitted he does not know how the horse will cope. "It's going to be horrible," he said. "But if he hates it, he's just going to have to put up with it. I have to get him out."
Barry Geraghty, stable jockey at Seven Barrows, warms up for Simonsig with another odds-on favourite in Puffin Bay. Winner of two bumpers before impressing over timber at Newbury last month, this horse looks eligible to sustain a sense of renewal in his trainer's career, and Oliver Sherwood seems confident he will handle the conditions.
The deluges continue to disrupt the jumps programme, though the Peterborough Chase has again been salvaged after the loss of Exeter yesterday. Originally scheduled for Huntingdon last week, the race will now strengthen the second day of the Christmas meeting at Kempton.
Junior was supplemented yesterday for the Boxing Day highlight, the William Hill King George VI Chase, at a cost of £10,000. He confirmed his relish for the mud at Newcastle last month, and connections feel that deteriorating ground will test the unproven stamina of some key protagonists.
One of those, Sizing Europe, dropped out yesterday and will probably revert to two miles at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting. First Lieutenant also stays closer to home, for the Lexus Chase, but a late decision is expected on the remaining Irish contender, Sir Des Champs, between the Lexus and King George.
Pipers Piping may bear a festive name but he has cast a cloud over Adam Kirby's Christmas. Yesterday the British Horseracing Authority announced that the jockey will be asked to explain his ride on the horse at Kempton earlier this month. No action was taken by stewards on the day but retrospective analysis has prompted the BHA to ask whether Kirby might have achieved a more prominent finish than 10th of 13. The respected analysts of Timeform had also drawn attention to Pipers Piping, noting: "slowly into stride, dropped out, travelled strongly, met some trouble 2f out, considerately handled, finished with running left."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Wordiness (6.50 Wolverhampton) Has hinted at better since changing stable and things could finally drop into place with a step up in trip.
Refreshestheparts (11.25 Lingfield) Finally confirmed herself ahead of the game on her return from a break last week.
One to watch
Liliana (Peter Chapple-Hyam) has speedy genes and looked as though she ran out of gas when cut down late at Wolverhampton.
Where the money's going
Balder Success is 5-1 from 6-1 with the sponsors for the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot tomorrow, while Teaforthree is 4-1 from 9-2 with Coral for the Welsh National.
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