Binocular leads Champion Hurdle field

Binocular could be part of the largest field for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle in 18 years with Nicky Henderson’s hot favourite one of 24 horses declared for Tuesday’s main event.

Binocular could be part of the largest field for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle in 18 years with Nicky Henderson’s hot favourite one of 24 horses declared for Tuesday’s main event.

Should all line up, it will equal the number involved when Morley Street triumphed in 1991 but with about 10 millimetres of rain forecast by the start of the meeting, Nicky Henderson’s charge is expected to drift in the market.

With Sentry Duty and Punjabi also engaged for the stable, Henderson walked the course on Sunday and appeared happy enough, as did Alan King, trainer of last year’s winner Katchit.

The ground was eased officially to good to soft all over at the end of the afternoon with 3mm precipitation reported, which is prompting betting exchange Betfair to believe Binocular could be much bigger on the day.

Spokesman Tony Calvin said: “It seems that rival connections aren’t scared of taking on Binocular, and our layers agree.

“Binocular may be the form choice and one of the few potential superstars in the field.

“But likely soft ground and a massive field will make it a gruelling stamina test, and he has to lug 11lb more up the hill than last year.

“He has drifted out to 15-8 and I believe a Betfair SP of 9-4 or bigger is possible on Tuesday, should the predicted rain arrive at the track.”

Kate Miller of William Hill added: “The tide is definitely beginning to change for Binocular, with punters looking elsewhere for value as the heavens open.

“The old warrior Brave Inca is one of the few in the field who will genuinely enjoy soft conditions and he will bring the house down if regaining his 2006 crown.”

After his walk, Henderson joked: “I would love to start the meeting this afternoon. In fact I might just go home and bring Binocular back this afternoon!

“It is nice ground and in good nick but it wouldn’t take a lot to move the going description.

“A lot of rain won’t affect Binocular as he has been on soft before, and Punjabi and Sentry Duty are both in great form.”

King added: “The rain won’t affect Katchit as he has won on heavy before and it might even slow some of the others down.”

The only other business of note was the booking of Dominic Elsworth for the back-to-form Brave Inca.

Trainer Colm Murphy had been deliberating over a partner in recent weeks, with his usual allies Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy unavailable.

“I’m very pleased – he is a winner of the Champion Hurdle and the Irish Champion Hurdle – so it’s something to look forward to,” said Elsworth.

Elsworth is not sure whether he will have a sit on Brave Inca before the race, adding: “I just got a call from my agent on Sunday morning, so nothing has been arranged at the moment anyway.”

As well as Binocular, last year’s juvenile crop are represented by Celestial Halo, Ashkazar, Crack Away Jack, French import Othermix and Irish challenger Won In The Dark.

Along with Brave Inca and Katchit, former champions Hardy Eustace and Sublimity are also back for more.

Noel Meade has declared all three of his entries – Harchibald, Jered and Muirhead.

Last year’s favourite Sizing Europe, Willie Mullins’ Ebaziyan and River Liane complete a strong Irish team.

The Donald McCain-trained Whiteoak, a Festival winner last season, is the only mare in the field.

Last year’s runner-up Osana takes his chance, while Snap Tie, Blue Bajan, Alph and Cybergenic complete the field.

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