Champion Hurdle candidate Starluck may have his final Cheltenham warm-up on the Flat after the loss of the Kingwell Hurdle, the last recognised big-race trial, at frozen Wincanton at the weekend. The grey's trainer, Alan Fleming, will learn today whether a replacement for the abandoned Grade Two contest will be staged at Kempton on Saturday, but may opt instead for a mile all-weather race at the Sunbury track the following Wednesday.
Starluck should have clashed with reigning title holder Punjabi at Wincanton, but Fleming is not keen on a head-to-head that bit closer to the Festival showpiece, to be run three weeks tomorrow. "The balls are still all in the air," he said yesterday. "The horse does need a race, but really only a good blow-out to sharpen him up, he's in great shape otherwise. I'm not sure we'd want a battle at that stage."
Andrew Wates' five-year-old, fourth to Zaynar in last year's Triumph Hurdle, is a 14-1 shot for the Cheltenham crown. His latest outing was in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, when he went down by just a short-head to Go Native, currently 4-1 Champion Hurdle second favourite.
Punjabi's trainer Nicky Henderson looked askance yesterday at Wincanton's abandonment as late as Saturday morning, too late to move the Kingwell Hurdle to Ascot, which survived the freeze. "It was disappointing to lose the race when it would have suited everyone to run it and everything was in place to transfer it," he said. "But if Kempton put on a two-mile hurdle at the weekend, Punjabi will run in it."
After a blank day in Britain and Ireland yesterday, the jumps cards this afternoon at Carlisle and tomorrow at Southwell are subject to inspections this morning. Today's fixture at Market Rasen was lost because of snow.
Turf account Sue Montgomery
Ancient Times (3.45 Wolverhampton)
Slightly disappointing on his debut earlier in the month but the experience should have sharpened him up.
Its Teescomponents (3.35 Carlisle)
Creeping up the ratings but won a better race in sprightly style last time and may still be ahead of the handicapper.
One to watch
Mister Wall Street (Ferdy Murphy) is one to look out for on spring ground.
Where The Money's Going
Day Of A Lifetime has been backed from 10-1 to 8-1 with Paddy Power for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
Chris McGrath's Map
Sir Edwin Landseer (4.40 Lingfield)