Last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining a tendon injury.
Gold Cup champion trounces Irish challengers to become clear favourite to retain Festival crown
Jump racing’s essential paradox, that often as not the best chasers cannot jump, was perfectly illustrated at the weekend, when last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs followed the Gold Cup fourth The Giant Bolster in proving unequal to the fundamental task, departing at the third fence in a three-runner race on his reappearance at Punchestown. The two-and-a-half-mile Grade One contest, so rapidly reduced to a match, went to stablemate Arvika Ligeonniere.
The race regarded as an autumn Gold Cup resulted in the utter rout of the past winners of the Festival blue riband at Haydock on Saturday as Cue Card set the seal on his emergence at the top of the British staying division with an emphatic display of front-running jumping to win the Grade One Betfair Chase.
The Festival has lost none of its intensity since expanding to a fourth day in 2005, but those who counselled that "less is more" may yet feel they had a point when they contemplate today's card. Elevated to the Thursday centrepiece, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle has hitherto borrowed lustre first from Inglis Drever, who won three times in four years, and then from Big Buck's, whose record-breaking spree of 18 wins has incorporated the last four runnings.
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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.
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.
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Five years have now passed since the days when the Celtic tiger roared home an Irish one-two in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, courtesy of War Of Attrition and Hedgehunter. Since then the challenge from across the water has yielded only disappointment but this term, the champion Long Run apart, the home defence looks shaky. And yesterday at Punchestown the upwardly mobile six-year-old Rubi Light, trained by Co Meath-based Robbie Hennessy, at least drew off a gauntlet, even if it is yet to be thrown down.
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman has been retired after suffering a setback in his preparation for the Lexus Chase.
Her best horse had been beaten again, and a wild, murky afternoon in the flatlands must have blended fairly seamlessly with her own emotional landscape. But Henrietta Knight did not have to seek far here yesterday to remember how it's an ill wind that blows no good. It was only five days previously, after all, that the horse who had just beaten Somersby dismayed his own connections with a fall at Sandown. Having duly avoided a hard race against Sizing Europe, Gauvain was able to rise from the canvas and win the Betfred Peterborough Chase – and, in the process, at least he confirmed Knight in her suspicion that Somersby nowadays requires a stiffer test of stamina.