Anyone who witnessed their wins at the Punchestown Festival last year will have vowed to go to extreme lengths to see Dunguib and Hurricane Fly take each other on this time round. But while many have kept their part of the bargain, notably those pilgrims who persevered after their flights were grounded, the horses themselves have not entirely reciprocated.
Last year, each seemed to confirm himself the best in his respective discipline – Dunguib in bumpers, and Hurricane Fly in novice hurdles – for many years. But they return today for the Rabobank Champion Hurdle having shed their mutual air of invincibility. In fairness, it has hardly been their fault. Hurricane Fly has been sidelined for much of the campaign, while Dunguib took so well to hurdles that many wanted to see him fast-tracked to open company at Cheltenham last month. As it was, he started odds-on to beat fellow novices only to be set a tremendous amount to do by his inexperienced rider.
That defeat did little to discourage the notion that he is exceptional, as he did well even to get involved. Restrained in the rear, he was taken wide throughout and then consumed fuel hastily as the winner kicked clear. But Dunguib has been on the go since October, and there have already been several instances this week of fresh horses beating fatigued superiors on spring ground.
Conversely, even the rampant form of his stable cannot quite stifle reservations about Hurricane Fly's potential rustiness. Admittedly he missed Cheltenham last year, as well, and won here on his first start since Christmas. But his one outing this term – racing freely before finding little here in November – implied that he needs more work since being gelded, not to mention that this level will require a tougher streak than sufficed against novices.
All in all, it would by no means represent the end for either of these rising stars should the likes of Solwhit or Punjabi, divided only by a photo in this last year, hold them this time. Solwhit had an interrupted preparation for Cheltenham, but Punjabi had no obvious excuse and must instead rely on his good record here. You could instead take out collective insurance with three horses supposedly out of their depth. Voler La Vedette did not stay the longer trip at Cheltenham; Ronaldo Des Mottes arrives fresh for the time of year; and Thousand Stars, the pick at 33-1, has improved so fast since joining Willie Mullins his County Hurdle win could prove only the tip of the iceberg.
Mullins saddled yet another big winner at the meeting yesterday, Quevega duly outclassing her rivals for the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle. Masterfully prepared to win consecutive runnings of the mares' hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, Quevega was always cruising in midfield and closed easily as Karabak took over on the home turn. The big question was whether Quevega would last the extra distance, and her stablemate, Mourad, joined issue to find out as they approached the last. But the mare kept on so powerfully that Big Buck's himself might have been grateful that he has already begun his summer holidays. Bensalem passed Mourad for second, but Quevega rolled three lengths clear without being given a hard race by Paul Townend.
Her mares' allowance clearly helped, but Quevega is a genuine class act. She had been beaten only three lengths against the two-milers here last year and not many horses can win at Cheltenham first time out. The dilemma now might be whether to take on Big Buck's next year, or go for a hat-trick against her own sex.
In the other Grade One race, the Ryanair Novice Chase, Captain Cee Bee atoned for his Cheltenham failure under a patient ride from Tony McCoy. Having lacked fluency at Cheltenham, this time he was hunted round while the errors were made by fancied rivals. First Psycho crashed out in the back straight, and then Riverside Theatre, who brought down two others in a terrifying pile-up that resulted in his jockey, Barry Geraghty, being carried into the ambulance. McCoy produced his mount to run down the front-running Let Yourself Go approaching the last and win going away.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Waseet (1.45 Sandown) Did well to get second in the Royal Lodge Stakes, trapped on the bridle as the winner enjoyed first run; top-class pedigree suggests extra distance sure to suit.
Dorback (2.20 Sandown) Connections have favoured this race for some smart sprinters in the past.
One to watch
Significant Move (R Charlton) Can progress in every way after debut second against a hardened rival at Newbury on Saturday.
Where the money's going
Workforce is 10-1 from 12-1 for the Investec Derby with William Hill.Reuse content