While one rising star hesitated before his own career crossroads, another yesterday struck out with rather more conviction than most appeared to perceive. Grands Crus, it turns out, will not test the water for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup at the Festival trials meeting tomorrow; but the rehearsal on the same card of Big Buck's has surely obtained fresh interest after Zaidpour's emergence as a plausible new force in a division, staying hurdlers, the champion has so dominated over the past three years.
Having seen him enjoy the run of a race run at a fairly pathetic gallop, few will read too much into Zaidpour's length defeat even of a mare as able and dependable as Voler La Vedette in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park. But while his first start over three miles palpably failed to test his stamina, he has always given the impression that he will be most potent when produced off a strong pace. As it was, Voler La Vedette never looked like getting past after tracking him comfortably into the straight, the pair quickly pulling well clear.
True, the man in the saddle will himself expect Big Buck's to confirm himself superior when switching to the odds-on favourite in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in March, for which the sponsors leave Zaidpour on 12-1. "It was clear at the start no one was going to make it, so I sauntered along in front," Ruby Walsh said. "He just loves soft ground, you couldn't have it soft enough for him."
Willie Mullins, moreover, could not yet commit Zaidpour to a Festival target, with the Stan James Champion Hurdle back over two miles apparently still an option. "The tactics won it for him," the trainer said. "Ruby gave him a very sharp ride. I don't know which race he'll go for at Cheltenham – today's race wasn't a trial for either, as they went at no gallop."
The champion trainer kept up his merciless run of form when saddling On His Own to win the Goffs Thyestes Chase, a valuable handicap with a recent history as a trustworthy John Smith's Grand National signpost. Making only his second start since arriving from Howard Johnson's yard – he had been brought down at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting – On His Own jumped really well under David Casey and routed a competitive field by 13 lengths and more. "This horse looks a real Aintree type in the making," Mullins said. "He may have one more run before the National."
On His Own looks a very fair price at 33-1 with Ladbrokes. As for Grands Crus, the decision not to experiment against seasoned rivals in the Argento Chase would seem to confirm differences within his own camp. One of the joint-owners has expressed enthusiasm for the Gold Cup; another is thought more inclined to keep the grey in novice company while he is still eligible. If the casting vote rests with David Pipe, their trainer, then he appears to be hedging his bets for now, with Grands Crus likely to tackle a novice chase over three miles at Newbury on 11 February "We've decided we don't want to give him a hard race with the Festival just around the corner," Pipe explained. "A decision on which race he will take in at the Festival will not be made until much nearer the time."
Presvis, now eight years old, meanwhile made a low-key return at Meydan last night. Making his first appearance since May, he was detached early as usual but the leaders were never going fast enough to set up his late finish and he kept on only at one pace in the straight to finish fifth behind Musir in the Group Two Al Rashidiya.
Chris McGrath's nap
Saves Time (1.40 Huntingdon)
Gave first glimpse of ability when qualifying for a mark with a third quick start in novice hurdles.
Nagpur (3.30 Fontwell)
Well treated under a penalty after turning over an odds-on shot on his second British start.
One to watch
Granville Island (Jennie Candlish) is a bumper winner in good hands and the mid-race headway he made before flattening out into fourth over hurdles at Market Rasen on Sunday promised better to come once he is handicapped.
Where the money's going
Fruity O'Rooney is 20-1 from 33-1 with William Hill for the Skybet Chase at Doncaster tomorrow.
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