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Tony McCoy’s Binocular has win in sights

Kauto Star so bestrides proceedings at Kempton tomorrow that many will culpably overlook the presence on the same stage of a horse who arrives, unlike the one at the top of the bill, as a reigning Cheltenham champion.

Tony McCoy’s mount Binocular, moreover, will be accompanied in the Christmas Hurdle not only by his closest challenger at the Festival last March, Khyber Kim, but also by a rival never more likely to beat them both than now.

Starluck travels through his races with great flair, but his fuel tank is not the deepest and the climb to the post at Cheltenham seems destined always to find him out in elite company.

The sharp, flat track at Kempton is another story, however, and his trainer yesterday acknowledged that this rescheduled prize is, in effect, Starluck's Champion Hurdle.

“It's probably our best chance of winning a Grade One with this horse,” Alan Fleming said. “So we're all out.”

Having ultimately faded into fifth in the Champion, Starluck again coasted into contention on his return at Newbury in November, before just being outstayed by Peddlers Cross.

It was six lengths back to Binocular, whose main priority is naturally the defence of his Cheltenham crown.

“To be fair to our horse, he galloped all the way to the line at Newbury,” Fleming noted. “By all accounts the winner is very good, and Starluck should come on a fair bit for the run.”

Beaten only in a photo for this race last season, Starluck may have had an excuse for flattening out in the Champion.

“He was lame a day or two after the race,” Fleming said. “If the ground were good, there might be a chance he'll go back there. We'll see.

“But Kempton seems to suit him and we've obviously had this race in mind for a long time. I'd like to think that he's in his prime now, and that this could be his year.”

Win, lose or draw, the Irishman will always cherish Starluck, who won a juvenile hurdle as his first runner after Andrew Wates hired him to supervise the Surrey stables made famous, back in 1996, by the Grand National success of Rough Quest.

Now in his third season here, Fleming is under no illusions, albeit he recently saddled an impressive bumper winner at Southwell in Oscara Dara.

“We're a very small yard, and that's not going to change — we've only 15 stables,” he said.

“So you just try to do the best you can. Oscara Dara could be a horse to look forward to. He works well, and he’ll go to Ascot next week,” he added.

A world apart from the mud and rain of Kempton, the Dubai International Carnival began last night and if the first and third races seemed to round up the usual suspects — won by Mike de Kock and Godolphin respectively — then the one between confirmed Meydan as a place of lucrative opportunity for any enterprising stable.

David Marnane, the young County Tipperary trainer who won the Victoria Cup at Ascot last year with Dandy Boy, saddled the same horse to a really impressive handicap success and is now targeting the Godolphin Mile on World Cup night in March.

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