Last week's action began on a very low note with the death of Champion Hurdle hopeful Darlan but ended on a high with the emergence of a readymade replacement from the same stable, explains Timeform's jumps handicapper Phil Turner...
In fact, the hugely impressive win by My Tent Or Yours (Timeform rating h168p) in Saturday's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury evoked memories of another top-notch two-mile hurdler whose career was all too brief, namely Golden Cygnet. The late 1970s are rightly regarded as a golden era of hurdling due to the exploits of double champions Night Nurse, Monksfield and Sea Pigeon, though the ill-fated Golden Cygnet could well have broken their stranglehold had his career not been cut tragically short by a final-flight fall in the 1978 Scottish Champion Hurdle - when he was due to beat both Sea Pigeon and Night Nurse.
Golden Cygnet's rating of 176 remains the highest for a novice hurdler in Timeform history, whilst only four novices - the illustrious quartet of Danoli, Alderbrook, Baracouda and Iris's Gift - have managed to top the 170 mark during the intervening thirty-five years. The Supreme Novices' Hurdle is reportedly still the Cheltenham Festival target for My Tent Or Yours, who'll hold strong claims of being able to emulate Golden Cygnet's effortless fifteen-length demolition of a good field back in the 1978 renewal of that race if he turns up in the same sort of form as at Newbury.
The Champion Hurdle, however, looks an even more appealing option should connections decide to stump up the supplementary entry fee. After all, My Tent Or Yours is already rated higher than Make A Stand, who completed the Betfair Hurdle-Champion Hurdle double as a novice back in 1997. In addition, his rating compares favourably with other novices who've figured prominently in the Champion Hurdle down the years, including Ruling (167 when third in 1991), Royal Gait (164p when winning in 1992) and Large Action (168 when third in 1994).
Regardless of which Cheltenham Festival target connections eventually plump for, what isn't in doubt is the strength of his Newbury form. It looked a notably strong renewal of the Betfair Hurdle beforehand and the result makes plenty of sense behind the very easy winner, with the well-backed Cotton Mill (h152) confirming himself a smart performer in filling the runner-up spot, whilst the hitherto-unbeaten Swing Bowler (h139p) shaped as is still on the upgrade in finishing third.
The fact that the next two home, Dark Lover (h152) and Petit Robin (h159), represented the two top yards in the country and came into the race at the top of their game gives further strength to the argument that this is a race view very positively, so it says plenty for the future prospects of My Tent Or Yours that he could score so impressively.
The Betfair Hurdle, understandably, rather overshadowed the listed novice hurdle which took place at Exeter some twenty-four hours later, but this was another race which proved informative with regards to the Cheltenham Festival. Admittedly it ended up a slightly unsatisfactory affair due to the highly-touted runner-up Puffin Billy (h144p) finishing lame, but that shouldn't detract too much from another taking display by Melodic Rendezvous (h148p), who showed himself to be still firmly on the upgrade in completing a hat-trick. Although all three of those wins have come on heavy ground, Melodic Rendezvous certainly isn't short of speed and should prove as effective on less testing conditions.
Indeed, he'd represent a live contender for the Supreme Novices' in a normal year, but that won't be the case should he have to contend with My Tent Or Yours at Cheltenham next month...
Timeform's top-rated novice hurdlers:
MY TENT OR YOURS 168p
PONT ALEXANDRE 158p
AT FISHERS CROSS 152p
DODGING BULLETS 152
RULE THE WORLD 151p
THE NEW ONE 151p
CAUSE OF CAUSES 151
CHAMPAGNE FEVER 150
MELODIC RENDEZVOUS 148p