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The champion jockey was down to ride JP McManus' horse Sunnyhill Boy but will now ride Sir Des Champs
A look ahead to the Gold Cup
However conscientiously they strive to improve the odds in terms of safety at Aintree – a greater imperative than ever, after trauma and tragedy in each of the past two years – the one thing they will never provide is a level playing field. Even so, some felt that the dice had been unfairly loaded in favour of one horse in particular when the weights for the John Smith's Grand National were published.
Mullins gelding jumps into reckoning for Cheltenham Gold Cup as Silviniaco Conti also impresses
Harry The Viking, who carries the silks of Sir Alex Ferguson, was today confirmed as a possible runner in the John Smith's Grand National.
Given that awards and judgements seem to be a natural feature of the turn of a year, surely the statisticians at the sport's ratings bible Timeform can take the opportunity to hand out a bit of justice with the removal of one of their pejorative gongs. For the past four seasons the symbol for unreliability – a periwig squiggle – has accompanied their annual essays on the classy but enigmatic Tidal Bay.
It is the moment of truth not just for Flemenstar, but for anyone clinging to the hope that he can restore the lost romance to jump racing. A sport increasingly dominated by wealthy patrons of a few top trainers today shares the tension and excitement suffusing the Casey family's tiny stable, just up the coast from Dublin, as Flemenstar attempts a new summit at Leopardstown. A first start over three miles in the Lexus Chase, in testing ground, requires him to disclose a doughtiness to match his brilliance. If he proves equal to the challenge, every neutral will join his connections in their dream of landing the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This year was a long time in politics
On the day when British horseracing measured its resilience against recession, publishing record attendances in 2011, racegoers were given every incentive to get the turnstiles clicking again at Cheltenham on Saturday. Entries made yesterday for the Festival trials card appear to guarantee at least one new favourite for the real thing, in March, with the three horses sharing the top of the JCB Triumph Hurdle market all lined up for a dress rehearsal. Even so, no race will be more instructive than the Argento Chase, perhaps the last opportunity to prevent the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup becoming another straight duel between Kauto Star and Long Run.
No matter what the heart says, one look at the odds is enough to make the head hopelessly confused.
Though most of Britain's prestige jumping prizes are regularly shipped to Ireland, there is one that has proved surprisingly elusive to the raiders. In 54 runnings, the Hennessy Gold Cup has been exported on only three occasions, firstly during the 1960s by dual winner Arkle and most recently back in 1980 by Bright Highway.
The grimly bizarre events yesterday at Newbury, where racing was abandoned on safety grounds after two horses were fatally electrocuted in the parade ring before the first race, shifted the sporting focus, with just over four weeks to go before the start of the Cheltenham Festival, to the high-class card at Leopardstown.
One of racing's assets is that it is such a broad church, offering so many different ways to worship. If you want to follow only the premier division, the exploits of the Kauto Stars and Hurricane Flys, you can. If you want to find winners by compiling an analysis of apprentice-ridden mounts at Wolverhampton on wet Wednesdays, you can. If you want to send 50 texts to make sure your hero A P McCoy gets an award, that's fine as well.
Those of us who were depicting Pandorama as some sort of inexorable new force on the steeplechasing scene, before his first visit to Britain last month, were soon made to look rather silly.
Daily familiarity with hazard and frustration nurtures the stoic in every jumps professional, but this early intrusion of winter has tested the patience of many. There will be relief and gratitude, then, when the frost blankets are dragged off Cheltenham this morning.