So let’s cut to the chase here. Binocular could well be in a different class from his rivals for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle, but you would want to be assuming as much even to consider the odds available. Moreover he returns today to the scene of his only defeat, against a maximum field on ground expected to deteriorate overnight.
Rival jockeys, sensing that stamina is potentially his Achilles heel, will be intent on forcing a murderous gallop. And then what about that old rule against backing five-year-olds in this race, because they lack the necessary physical maturity? This rule had been carved in tablets of stone until Katchit beat a relatively modest field last year. Certainly breaking it has not appeared to do a great deal for Katchit since.
All of a sudden, you might want to look past the undoubted flamboyance Binocular has shown in his first season in open company, and register that he has had precisely two races, facing precisely four rivals on each occasion.
Nicky Henderson, his trainer, argues that Binocular was ridden too aggressively last year, and believes that the punishing finish in principle holds no fears. But it seems hard to envisage Binocular dealing with this much harder task on the bridle once again. If he does, fair play to him – you can afford to miss out at the odds. If he doesn’t, how surprised could anyone really be to see him falter?
Sublimity, third that day, could again be caught out by softening conditions, and likewise another former champion in Harchibald.
Even so, their trainer could still supply the best value against the favourite. Over the years, Noel Meade has suffered grim fortune at the Festival, and it would be typical if he had bittersweet redemption the one year he could not himself be present.
Meade had a back operation last week, but the bookmakers seem to think that his horses must have gone into theatre instead.
Muirhead ran deplorably here as a novice but Meade’s stable had been in shocking form. As a strong traveller who stays the trip well, MUIRHEAD (3.20) will be ideally served by the strong gallop here and looks superb each-way value at 40-1 with Victor Chandler.
Meade also has a fancied runner in the opener, but Go Native has not always impressed as particularly wholehearted, and only concerns about the combined inexperience of horse and rider disqualify COUSIN VINNY (1.30) as bet of the week. Lessons were no doubt learned by both at Leopardstown last time, and they were so impressive in the bumper here last year that it seems hard to imagine any of his rivals discovering as much class.
Willie Mullins, who not only trains Cousin Vinny but also sired his rider, can supply the banker of the day regardless in QUEVEGA (nap 4.40). She has made giant strides since entering his care from France, and put up a convincing rehearsal on her reappearance at Punchestown last month.
Many of us take a similar view with Nina Carberry, whose partnership with GARDE CHAMPETRE (next best 4.0) proved irresistible in this race last year. The extempore demands of the cross-country again suited both horse and rider ideally here in the autumn.
The Irish Independent Arkle Trophy looks atrociously competitive, but the big field and strong gallop will sort wheat from chaff over the fences. CALGARY BAY (2.05) is probably the one who has jumped best of these to date, while MILLENIUM ROYAL (2.40) looks on a fair mark in the first of the meeting’s frenzied handicaps.