The 2010 Stan James Champion Hurdle winner Binocular will bid to win the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown for the third year running at the Esher track on February 4 with connections hoping a success there will be followed by the biggest prize of all, just as it was two years ago when Nicky Henderson’s charge beat Khyber Kim in a thrilling renewal of the two-mile hurdles championship, writes Elliot Slater.
The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old was denied the chance to retain his crown after winning last season’s Contenders Hurdle, when ruled out of the championship race at the 11th hour after it became clear that antibiotics used to treat a rash had not cleared his system in time and that if he did race he would likely test positive for a prohibited substance. After missing Cheltenham the gelded son of Enrique headed to Aintree where he tackled two-and-a-half miles for the first time in his career but appeared not to stay in fading into fourth place after the second last in the race won by Oscar Whisky. He ended the term finishing third to the new champion hurdler Hurricane Fly in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in May. Anyone with a Cheltenham free bet bonus needs to bear this in mind.
This season Binocular began by finishing runner-up to the in-form Overturn in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November, then last time out at Kempton on Boxing Day he stayed-on bravely to win the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle by a neck from rising star Rock On Ruby, a performance that augurs well for a bold show once again from Henderson’s enigmatic performer at Cheltenham in March.
First though the current 9/1 ante-post fourth favourite (behind 15/8 market leader Hurricane Fly) will have to prove himself again at Sandown before returning to Prestbury Park in an attempt to win back the crown he conceded last term without even showing up on the big day.