Hot Cross all set for Champion test
Donald McCain is confident Peddlers Cross is at the peak of his powers as he puts his unbeaten record on the line in the Stan James Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.
Already a Festival winner, having landed the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle 12 months ago, the six-year-old has taken the step up to the big league in his stride this season, beating Binocular in the Fighting Fifth before returning from a three-month absence to score at Kelso.
McCain could not be happier with how his star turn has progressed since and while he admits the absence of Nicky Henderson's Binocular makes the task slightly easier, such is his confidence in his own horse, he would not have been concerned about taking him on anyway.
"Touch wood, since Kelso everything has been great. He's done a little bit of work this morning upsides and he looks good and seems well and happy. We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed," said the Cholmondeley handler.
"I'm not going to say I wish Binocular was in the race, obviously, as it's one less to take on. But at the same time, I wouldn't have had any qualms about taking him on if he was in the race.
"I was a little bit worried about sending him to Kelso, but thankfully he has definitely gone the right way. He's in tremendous form. I suppose in a way my work is done, but it doesn't make you feel an awful lot better!"
McCain has an interesting second string in the shape of bold front-runner Overturn. Although disappointing in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on his latest appearance, McCain believes the seven-year-old is back to the form that saw him win the Northumberland Plate and the Galway Hurdle last summer.
"He's absolutely bouncing at the moment and is working out of his skin," McCain continued. "I've said all along that I wouldn't mind going there with just him if I didn't have Peddlers. If he's anywhere near his best, he won't be the easiest horse to get past."
Henderson has saddled five winners of the race and despite being hit hard by Binocular's absence, he still has a potent force in the shape of Oscar Whisky, impressive winner of the Welsh Champion Hurdle last time out.
The Seven Barrows trainer said: "I think Oscar Whisky is in seriously good form. He is very, very well. He won what was my main target, the Welsh Champion Hurdle, but having said that, I just think he has come on a fair bit from that."