Zaynar, part-owned by the bookmaker Victor Chandler, proved a fine advertisement for the accuracy of the betting market's intelligence system with an emphatic victory at Newbury yesterday which propelled the grey clear of his rivals to favouritism for the Triumph Hurdle.
The jumping debutant, an import from the Aga Khan's string, zipped past the Paul Nicholls-trained, Aidan O'Brien cast-off Hebridean both in the race and as a Cheltenham Festival prospect. Having briefly hit a flat spot, Zaynar was right in the thick of it by the second-last flight and Barry Geraghty did not need to be forceful to pull four lengths clear of Walkon.
"I don't know where the confidence came from," the winning trainer, Nicky Henderson, declared, despite winning this event for the sixth time in eight years. "He's always jumped beautifully but does take an awful lot of work. He had a right good blow on the back straight and I'm a little surprised how well he picked up.
"He's wonderfully well bred – almost too well bred – as he is out of a Prix de Diane winner and by Daylami. What has always been the plan is the four-year-old hurdle on Victor Chandler day at Ascot."
Paddy Power are as short as 9-2 about Zaynar for the Triumph, while Coral offer 7-1 and William Hill go 8-1. Endorsement of his prospects came from the runner-up's trainer, Alan King, who maintained that "Walkon's the best juvenile hurdler I've got."
Nigel Twiston Davies scoffed at suggestions that his yard was under a cloud when Tricky Trickster obliged at 15-8 in the novices' chase. At the start of the afternoon the trainer had gone 19 days and 36 runners without a win but explained: "It's ridiculous. There have been only about five proper racing days in that time and everyone has been saying we're out of form. We knew there was nothing wrong with the horses."
The Naunton trainer hopes to be double-handed with Khyber Kim and Leamington Lad in the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday. Khyber Kim goes for the handicap rather than the rescheduled Boylesports.com International on the same card.
David Johnson reports that Ashkazar is in rude health and the owner is confident he can make his presence felt in the Ladbroke despite top weight. "Ashkazar was meant to run in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham but we decided to wait for this and we will learn a lot after Saturday," Johnson said of the David Pipe-trained gelding.
"The vibes from the camp are very good and we will all be disappointed if he is not on the premises. We think he is a very, very good horse."
The jockey Dean McKeown has lost his appeal against the British Horseracing Authority's decision to warn him off for four years. The appeal board yesterday upheld the disciplinary panel's ruling that McKeown was part of a conspiracy to lay a number of horses trained by Paul Blockley by passing on "inside information". It was thought the board would take longer to consider their verdict, but they made their judgement after just one day.
A decision on the appeal against the severity of the penalty will be made when any submissions he wishes the board to consider have been received.
Blockley, whose stables are in Lambourn, was disqualified for two and a half years. He did not contest the decision, but his application to work in stables was heard yesterday, with the result expected tomorrow.
TRIUMPH HURDLE (Cheltenham, 13 March) Coral: 7-1 Zaynar, 14-1 Lethal Weapon, Starluck, Tharawaat, 16-1 Cosmea, Hebridean, 20-1 Pepite De Soleil, Simarian, 25-1 Classic Swain, Donegal, El Fontan, Master Of Arts, Mr Thriller, Walkon, 33-1 others.
LADBROKE HURDLE (Ascot, Saturday) Ladbrokes: 5-1 Aigle D'Or, 6-1 Ashkazar, 7-1 Numide, 8-1 Belcantista, Sentry Duty, 12-1 Psycho, 14-1 Khyber Kim, 16-1 Five Dream, Noble Alan, Prince Taime, Take The Breeze, 20-1 Alsadaa, Mamlook, Sky Hall, Spear Thistle, 25-1 others.
KING GEORGE VI CHASE (Kempton, Boxing Day) Coral: 11-8 Kauto Star, 4-1 Voy Por Ustedes, 7-1 Imperial Commander, 8-1 Tidal Bay, Our Vic, 10-1 Tamarinbleu, 12-1 Air Force One, 16-1 War Of Attrition, 20-1 others.