Eustace takes Champion test

Hardy Eustace will head a raiding party of six from the Dessie Hughes stable at Cheltenham next week.

Hardy Eustace will head a raiding party of six from the Dessie Hughes stable at Cheltenham next week.

The 12-year-old will go for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle in what will be his seventh successive appearance at the Festival.

Dual winner of the race in 2004 and 2005 following his Supreme Novices’ victory in 2003, he was third in 2006 and fourth in 2007 but was only 12th when stepped up to three miles for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle 12 months ago.

No 12-year-old has won the Champion while only two 11-year-olds – Hatton’s Grace (1951) and Sea Pigeon (1981) – have been successful.

Bookmakers believe Hardy Eustace has little chance, quoting him at 100-1 to defy history.

However, Hughes gave Hardy Eustace the go-ahead for another crack at the Champion following a satisfactory workout after racing at Leopardstown on Sunday.

“We were pleased with him, he quickened up well in the straight,” said the Kildare trainer.

Hardy Eustace had been suffering from a lung infection which explained below-par performances on his last two starts, but he showed he was back to form.

“We’ll let him take his chance in the Champion. He’s run well in it every year,” Hughes went on.

Hughes schooled his RSA Chase hope Siegemaster at Leopardstown.

“We schooled Siegemaster over six fences. He jumped well and goes for the RSA,” the trainer said.

The rest of his Cheltenham team are Schindlers Hunt (Ryanair Chase), Flag Of Honour (Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle), The Rall (Pertemps Hurdle) and Western Charmer (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle).

Hughes has yet to decide whether to add Sunday’s Leopardstown winner Shirley Casper to the list. She is in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day tomorrow week.

“She’s fine, but the race is on the first day so it might come a bit quick. If it had been later in the week it would have suited her better, but we’ll see,” he added.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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