There’s still plenty of water to flow under the bridge before we arrive at the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival races on March 12, but already champion jockey Tony McCoy is being asked whether he will ride the young star Darlan or old favourite Binocular in the Grade 1 two-mile showcase contest, both of whom are trained by Nicky Henderson, writes Elliot Slater.
McCoy has been around long enough to field such enquiries with consummate ease and has made it clear that he will leave his decision until as late as he can, possibly until just a couple of days prior to the big race itself. If both horses arrive at the Champion Hurdle in good form it won’t be an easy choice as McCoy’s loyalty to Binocular, the horse who carried him to victory in the 2010 Champion Hurdle and who he has partnered in every one of his last 18 outings, clearly indicates a soft spot in the all-time great jockey’s heart.
But Darlan looks to be very much the rising star having been beaten only once in seven completed stats and most recently creating a tremendous impression when producing a fine turn of foot to beat Raya Star by four-and-a-half lengths in the Grade 1 William Hill Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, a race in which Binocular himself had triumphed 12 months earlier when outpacing the subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Rock on Ruby to score by a neck.
Betfair racing tips writers have no doubt that Darlan is the better of the pair these days though, while some bookmakers are offering the six-year-old at a top price of just 4/1 in the ante-post market for the big race. Binocular is available at a somewhat insulting 25/1 ahead of his expected reappearance run at Leopardstown towards the end of the month when he will look horns with another top-notcher Hurricane Fly in the Grade 1 BHP Irish Champion Hurdle.