It remains to be seen whether we will be able to return to racing this week in light of the weekend’s revelations about the equine flu crisis that has gripped the sport, and at the time of writing we’re still waiting on an announcement from the BHA, which should hopefully provide us with a clearer picture about the severity of the situation.
If it is indeed deemed safe enough for us to resume our racing programme, the scheduled restart date is a rather convenient one in Timeform terms, coming 24 hours before Thursday’s Timeform-sponsored Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso – a race which has often been used as a stepping stone to Cheltenham by a Champion Hurdle contender.
Timeform’s sponsorship of the Morebattle is due to head into its sixth year, and whilst we’ve been treated to some memorable renewals over the past five years – none more poignant than 12 months ago, when Cyrus Darius provided Ruth Jefferson with her first winner as a trainer following the death of her father – it is unlikely we will see a renewal quite as dramatic as the 2010 running of the race.
The race centred around the Nicky Henderson-trained Zaynar, who had won the previous year’s Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and he arrived in Scotland as one of the leading fancies for the Champion Hurdle, having won Grade 2 contests at Ascot and Cheltenham so far that season.
Only three lined up to oppose Zaynar, and with the Rayson Nixon-trained Kempski and Stuart Coltherd’s Tartan Snow both appearing to have impossible tasks on form, the only conceivable threat came from Howard Johnson’s Quwetwo, who had proven himself a useful prospect the previous season, but hadn’t been seen since being outclassed in that year’s Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Zaynar had been sent off as a 1/5 favourite when winning the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham against inferior rivals on his previous start, and odds compilers took a similar view to this contest, pricing up Nicky Henderson’s charge as an untouchable 1/14 favourite – despite the fact that he was conceding 8 lb to his rivals and was facing heavy ground for the first time in his career.
Connections would have been hoping for an afternoon without too much drama, in which their charge cemented his Champion Hurdle credentials with the minimum of fuss, but instead Zaynar wrote himself into the history books, becoming one of the shortest-priced favourites ever beaten on a British racecourse.
It was perhaps unfair, though, that Quwetwo was deemed a 12-1 shot up against Zaynar, considering that he had identified himself as an exciting prospect prior to defeat in the Baring Bingham the previous season, and he produced a decidedly smart performance to repel the long odds-on favourite; forcing the gallop from the start and finding plenty to repel his rival, who got as close as Quwetwo’s quarters having been four lengths down from the end of the back straight, but couldn’t get past.
As a result Zaynar earned himself infamy forever more, though it is worth pointing out that he didn’t produce an abjectly flat performance on the day, running to a very smart level on Timeform ratings. Instead, it was almost certainly a case of the unexposed Quwetwo raising his game to take advantage of the weight he was receiving, a view which was backed up by a time comparison with the earlier handicap on the card.
Nicky Henderson was quick to blame the heavy ground for Zaynar’s defeat, though he took it all rather gracefully:
“Zaynar's never encountered anything like it and probably won't again. But I don't regret coming. We've just got to be grown up about it.”
Zaynar was sent off as a 15/2 chance for the Champion Hurdle the following month, and he produced a commendable display to finish third, nine and a half lengths behind stablemate Binocular.