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Cheltenham Festival blow for Maguire

Jockeys must ride as though over eggshells at this stage of the season, with the Cheltenham Festival starting a fortnight on Tuesday, but Jason Maguire managed to trample over his own dreams at Doncaster yesterday.

He must miss the ride on Peddlers Cross, one of the favourites for the Champion Hurdle, after earning a seven-day suspension for his use of the whip on Cool Mission in the novice chase.

The final day of his ban is the first of the Festival — Champion Hurdle day.

It is a shattering reverse for a jockey enjoying a superb season. Maguire's only hope of a reprieve would be to have the ban reduced on appeal, but the fact is that the veterinary officer discovered “minor weals” on Cool Mission.

The stewards gave him five days on that account, and another two for using his whip with excessive frequency.

Maguire and his boss, Donald McCain, could still combine to win the Grand National, having one of the favourites in Ballabriggs, but he was overtaken in the betting yesterday by The Midnight Club, who beat several other Aintree fancies in the ATR Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.

Willie Mullins gave Hedgehunter his rehearsal here before he won the 2005 National, and The Midnight Club seems to have may of the same qualities.

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Certainly the way he regrouped to see off the late challenge of his stablemate Arbor Supreme suggested he will relish the test of stamina, and he had the class to finish a close third to Weapon's Amnesty and Pride Of Dulcote at the Cheltenham Festival in their first season over hurdles.

He is 10-1 from 12-1 with most bookies, who also halved the odds against Arbor Supreme to 20-1, and left Oscar Time at 16-1 after being last off the bridle in third.

Mullins saddles a smart novice hurdler at Thurles today, in Bishopsfurze, but he faces a formidable prospect in Hidden Cyclone and must jump better than at Clonmel last time.

In terms of physique, never mind ability, these are two of the more striking young horses on the Irish scene.

Minella Class, who has impressed in both starts for Nicky Henderson since his arrival from Ireland, meanwhile tests his Festival credentials at Huntingdon today.

On the same card smart hurdler Starluck makes his chasing debut, with a tilt at the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at stake.


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