Anyone would accept that the winner of the first race at the Cheltenham Festival next month may well have completed his public preparations yesterday – but his identity, even on a pedestrian midweek programme, would remain highly contentious. Simonsig could not have won with more extravagant ease than he did at Kelso; but then nor could Galileo's Choice, at Fairyhouse. The one certainty is that each will have to show what he can do off the bridle, if they meet in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. With Nicky Henderson still hedging his bets on Simonsig's most suitable target at the Festival, however, they are not yet certain to do so.
Though it hardly seemed the most obvious conclusion, after a race that had appeared to confirm Simonsig's principal asset as raw speed, Barry Geraghty dismounted and told Henderson that he might sooner be inclined to go for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle over an extra five furlongs. The grey had appeared to be outstayed by Fingal Bay at Sandown on his previous start, but Geraghty is perhaps concerned that his jumping may not be slick enough at the quicker tempo over two miles.
At least Henderson headed south with a more pleasing dilemma than when last visiting the Borders, Zaynar having been turned over at 1-14 in the same race two years ago. His two other runners also won, moreover, Lyvius being cut to 14-1 for the Triumph Hurdle after making a proficient start in the opener.
Galileo's Choice would arguably be better entitled to step up in distance, though he certainly cruised home kept to two miles yesterday. "He'll be better on nice ground," his trainer, Dermot Weld, promised. "Staying Group races on the Flat will be his main profession this year." In the end, neither Galileo's Choice nor Simonsig necessarily shed any new light on their future, each having been sent off at very short odds and chased home by a rival better known as a staying steeplechaser.
And it became an afternoon to reprove any complacency. Graham Lee's season appears to be over after he suffered a suspected broken femur at Southwell – on the same card that saw Robert Thornton finish second on his first ride since fracturing an arm at Hereford in December. Last Instalment, who had confirmed himself Ireland's leading candidate for the RSA Chase with another impressive success at Leopardstown on Sunday, will meanwhile miss the rest of the campaign after suffering from soreness since.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Loden (3.15 Musselburgh) Got stuck in the mud last time when qualifying for a rating – a pretty modest one, on Flat form.
Brackloon High (4.35 Leicester) Won at Hereford last time, but remains on a fairly indulgent mark.
One to watch
Moonlight Drive (John Quinn) Confirmed himself fairly treated when closing to within two necks at Musselburgh last Saturday.
Where the money's going
Treacle is 16-1 from 33-1 with Coral for the Grand National.