A feature of the Cheltenham Festival build-up is the shortage of Paul Nicholls-trained horses for the novice hurdles. Yet anyone surprised by the detail could have seen the explanation for themselves at Huntingdon yesterday.
It came in the raw-boned shape of Sang Bleu, a French import with talent to burn but a large and immature physique. He will be plying his trade successfully over fences long after yesterday's limited rivals have burnt themselves out.
It took Sang Bleu the length of the Huntingdon straight to wear down Stars Du Granits near the finish. And Ruby Walsh was vigorous enough aboard the four-year-old to suggest that a trip to the JCB Triumph Hurdle could leave the horse in a mental spin.
However, Sang Bleu's connections have not yet concluded the Cheltenham debate.
“He wasn't bought to be a Triumph Hurdle horse,” Anthony Bromley, who represented Nicholls, said. “Paul will decide what happens but he is a big baby who wants to be jumping a fence. Hurdles get in his way.”
Walsh must have been keen to ride Sang Bleu, who was beaten at Chepstow under Tony McCoy on his first run for Nicholls. So determined was he to make the acquaintance that he scrambled aboard a 10.20am flight from Ireland when Thurles was called off.
Unsurprisingly, Walsh is a firm odds-on favourite to complete a hat-trick of leading rider awards at the Cheltenham Festival which he dominated a year ago with an unprecedented seven winners.
The Kildare pilot is 2/1 on to follow up his outstanding feat of last season, which saw him overtake fellow multiple champion Tony McCoy as the most successful current Festival jockey.
Heading to the Cotswolds again, Ruby is on the 24-winner mark, just one behind the long-established record achieved by Pat Taaffe, while McCoy has achieved 21 victories though managing only a single scorer in each of the past three renewals.
Next best is another Irish horseman, Barry Geraghty, whose trio of 2009 winners leaves him with 16 on the board going into next month’s Festival.
The Turf Club's Appeals and Referrals Committee yesterday adjourned a hearing into an alleged substance abuse case involving jockey Danny Grant, to allow for clarification of the medical evidence.
The lightweight flat rider from Waterford, who suffers from a long-standing skin condition, and his main employer, Pat Flynn, attended the hearing, which lasted for close on three hours at The Curragh.
A routine sample given by Grant at The Curragh meeting of October 11 last allegedly contained traces of a prohibited substance.
Meanwhile, the meeting scheduled for Thurles yesterday will now be held on Friday, February 26.
Elsewhere, Siyaadah finished with a rattle to win the UAE 1000 Guineas at Meydan at odds of |50-1 after hot favourite Raihana could not sustain her run in the finishing straight.