Just about the only thing that did not go to plan yesterday for Nicky Henderson was that the helicopter due to take him from Lambourn to Ffos Las was grounded by high winds. Proceedings on the track were straightforward as both the trainer's Champion Hurdle contenders, the reigning champion Binocular and upwardly mobile Oscar Whisky, came through their rehearsals without alarum or excursion.
Neither had been expected to have anything more than a piece of paid exercise; Binocular, at Sandown, started at 1-10 and Oscar Whisky, at the Welsh course, was 2-7. Neither caused much of a ripple in the market for the Cheltenham opening day showpiece five weeks on Tuesday. The former was eased slightly but remains favourite after a rather indolent display, the latter cut slightly, to around 12-1.
Binocular had to be shaken up firmly by Tony McCoy to join issue with his pacesetting stablemate Ruthenoise at the last and though the seven-year-old drew away easily on the run to the line, if any other but he had produced such a merely workmanlike effort, supporters would be forgiven concern. But JP McManus's gelding had been even more underwhelming in the same contest last year before an electric performance at Cheltenham. "He didn't jump as well today as he can," said McCoy. "And he didn't travel that great. I didn't think I'd have to give him a squeeze, but it turned out very similar to what he did last year."
Oscar Whisky cruised home by eight lengths in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, carrying the colours of Dai Walters who also owns the racetrack and the chopper.
Henderson confirmed that the Festival target for the six-year-old, who won over two-and-a-half miles at Cheltenham last month, is the Champion Hurdle rather than the World Hurdle. "Mission accomplished today," he said. "There'll be improvement to come and there's nothing to be gained by going for the longer race next month; it looks just as hard as the Champion Hurdle."
Henderson was not discomfited by Binocular's warm-up. "He's getting harder to get fit at home," he said, "and even pootling round like that will have done him good. Both will now be able to have a quiet week or so before the build-up to the day that matters."
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