Binocular, trained by Nicky Henderson, is the pre-race favorite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, and rightly so. Since his winning entry in the National Hunt Sphere at Ascot on Jan. 18, 2008 in the three-to-four-year-old class, he has improved significantly.
Still, his subsequent victories at Kempton, Aintree, Haydock, and Ascot (again) have not atoned for his two-length defeat by Captain Cee Bee at Cheltenham last year in the Supreme Novices Hurdle (GR1).
Binocular was superbly bred, acquiring speed by his sire and staying power on his dam side, and jockey A.P. McCoy had deserted the eventual winner in favor of the young superstar.
But his inexperience and pre-race nervousness didn't help matters at Cheltenham in 2008. With a strong headwind, he was run out of it in the last 100 yards after jumping upsides the winner two-out. There is a strong suspicion that he doesn't handle extremely soft ground well, as he has not won on very soft or heavy conditions.
The track at Cheltenham a year ago was deemed "good/soft" (but was on the soft side of good) and slow. In reality, there could be many reasons for Binocular's defeat at Cheltenham last year.
But in 2009, Binocular is an entirely different horse, having equaled the track record at Haydock, cruising past his rivals from two-out.
He has been mentioned in the same breath as the mighty Istabraq, who went on to win three Champion Hurdles, and McCoy is as confident as any.
Binocular is best when fresh. Henderson and owner J.P. McNamus are surely revelling in a chance to run away with the Champion Hurdle.
Perhaps this horse's detractors should glance at how fantastically he's been working at home. I have a feeling I will need "binoculars" to see how far this he wins by.
As they used to say long ago, when your selection is cruising up to his rivals and the jockey is motionless with two flights left to go...