Zaynar takes the high road today but at least he'll be in Cheltenham before his stablemate, Binocular, who was scratched yesterday from the Smurfit Champion Hurdle.
Already supplanted by Zaynar as ante post favourite, Binocular did not appear to impress Tony McCoy any more in winning at Sandown the other day than he had in two defeats previously this season. Yesterday their trainer, Nicky Henderson, had the cold comfort of tracing the physical inhibition in a horse who had finished a close third to yet another Seven Barrows star, Punjabi, in the Champion last year.
“He's completely sound but a minor, yet significant, muscle problem has been diagnosed and explains our concerns,” Henderson said. “We feel we don't have sufficient time to treat this, for him to do himself justice in the Champion Hurdle. We have decided to put him away for the season, to ensure he can begin next term 100 per cent for a full campaign.”
It would now seem likely that McCoy will take over whichever mount is rejected by Barry Geraghty after Punjabi and Zaynar have completed their preparations. Punjabi meets Celestial Halo in the Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday, while Zaynar finds an exotic setting for his own rehearsal at Kelso this afternoon, in the Victor Chandler Morebattle Hurdle.
A star turn like this offers the cherished Borders track a gratifying day in the sun, albeit the track must pass an inspection with frost expected overnight. Even with Denman's recent Newbury embarrassment in mind, few will detect any menace in the four animals daring to stand in his path. Zaynar is unbeaten in five starts over timber.
Whether this year's champion will cope with the next generation is another matter. Dunguib looks the most gifted novice in a long time, while another terrific display at Punchestown yesterday confirmed Rite Of Passage as eligible to take him on again some day.
Sent off favourite when third to Dunguib in the Festival Bumper, Rite Of Passage has since proved the more natural jumper of the two. Tried over two and a half miles at Punchestown, he did not have to dig at all deep, but Dermot Weld was none the less satisfied that he should go two miles and five furlongs at the Festival next month, rather than meet Dunguib over the bare two.
“It was a satisfactory performance, but that's as far as I would go,” Weld said. “He found the track a little tight. It's only his second run over hurdles, and the reason for bringing him here was to experience the undulations. It took him time to get use to them, which he did. He's a big horse, and I think a more galloping track would suit.”
Proceedings were overshadowed, however, by the news that a 21-year-old rider, Ronan Lawlor, had been killed in a horrifying gallops accident at Pat Fahy's Co Carlow yard on Tuesday morning.