Binocular tops field of 13 for Champion Hurdle

LAST year’s winner Binocular heads a field of 13 left in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

The JP McManus-owned seven-year-old, who warmed up in his bid to retain his crown with victory in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, is one of two probables from the Nicky Henderson team.

The other is Welsh Champion Hurdle winner Oscar Whisky, while Khyber Kim, who was runner-up 12 months ago, could try to go one better for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Menorah, who took the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on this card last year, is a strong candidate from the Philip Hobbs stable having won both of his starts at Cheltenham this term.

Peddlers Cross, who also won at the 2010 Festival, represents trainer Donald McCain, along with Overturn, and has a 100% record to defend.

Alan King is double-handed with the progressive Mille Chief and Salden Licht, while there are three Irish challengers in the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Hurricane Fly and Thousand Stars – plus Philip Fenton’s Dunguib.

Clerk’s Choice and Bygones Of Brid make up the baker’s dozen.

Get Me Out Of Here, also owned by McManus, has been withdrawn along with Cue Card, who instead goes for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The going at Cheltenham is described as good to soft, good in places

Simon Claisse, the clerk of the course and director of racing, said: “We have seen some light rain today and the forecast is for further light rain and showers up to Monday.

“The acceptors for Centenary Day look fantastic and we have an extremely high-class renewal of the Stan James Champion Hurdle in prospect.”

Meanwhile Mikael D’Haguenet remains among 13 potential starters in next Tuesday’s Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy.

Willie Mullins still has the option of the RSA Chase and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle for his top-class novice hurdler, who still has a big reputation but is still to win in three starts over fences in Ireland.

There were few surprises at the confirmation stage for the two-mile novice title with Medermit, Ghizao and Finian’s Rainbow – locked together at the top of the betting – all still set to be involved.

Next best in the market Realt Dubh remains in line to travel over from Ireland, while Philip Hobbs will make a late decision as to whether Captain Chris contests this event or the Jewson later in the week.

As expected, Alan Fleming has taken Starluck out of the race while Nicky Henderson has withdrawn Bellvano.

Dan Breen, Giorgio Quercus, Rock Noir, Stagecoach Pearl, West With The Wind, William’s Wishes and Blazing Tempo complete the line-up.

Ante-post favourite Cue Card tops the 23 confirmations for the Stan James Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the first race of the four-day Festival meeting on Tuesday.

Colin Tizzard’s five-year-old is taking the easier option instead of the Champion Hurdle.

He won the Weatherbys’ Champion Bumper last spring and suffered his only defeat to date when second to Menorah in the International Hurdle on this course in December on his latest outing.

He is set to be taken on by many promising sorts, including Nicky Henderson’s trio of Gibb River, Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre.

There may also be three from the Paul Nicholls stable – Al Ferof, Rock On Ruby and Sam Winner.

The Irish contingent is led by leading trainer Willie Mullins, who has So Young and Zaidpour, the Mouse Morris-trained pair of First Lieutenant and Tillahow, and Dermot Weld’s Hidden Universe.

A strong entry also includes Megastar, Recession Proof and Marsh Warbler.

Gary Moore has yet to decide whether to run Megastar in the Supreme or wait for the longer Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle on Wednesday.

“If it comes up soft he definitely won’t run at Cheltenham,” the trainer told At The Races.

“If it’s on the quick side he’d go for the Neptune and if it wasn’t he’d go for the two-mile race (Supreme).”

Planet Of Sound is a major doubt to take his chance in next week’s totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.

One of the outsiders for the Festival feature, last year’s winner of the Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup is struggling with a problem.

“I’d say it was very unlikely he’ll run,” said Hobbs. “He has got an infection in a hind leg and unless he’s 100% within the next three days, he won’t be able to run.”

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