Red Dunguib's 'only option'
Just as we were getting excited about the intriguing clash of Hurricane Fly and Dunguib as the latter was due to make his seasonal debut in the BHP Champion Hurdle on Sunday, his trainer Philip Fenton was forced to rule him out of the Leopardstown showpiece.
An unsatisfactory routine blood test taken by Fenton yesterday forced him to rule out the exciting eight-year-old.
"Dunguib looks great and is working well but the results from the blood tests we took this morning were not satisfactory and we have run out of time for the weekend," Fenton said last night.
He continued: "Hopefully after four or five days on antibiotics he will be fine again and the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park looks to be our only option before Cheltenham."
Dunguib had been installed as a 9/2 chance for Sunday's Grade One contest with Hurricane Fly the 4/6 favourite, but following the high profile withdrawal of the former, Hurricane Fly is now as short as 1/2.
Paddy Power has announced that they will refund all bets on Dunguib for Sunday's Irish Champion Hurdle and it now appears that Solwhit will again be Hurricane Fly's biggest challenger.
However, despite overcoming the odds on favourite once in the past and winning six Grade Ones, Solwhit's trainer Charles Byrnes is dismissive of his chances.
Byrnes said: "He has come out of the Paddy Power Festival Hurdle very well when the race turned into a sprint.
"He would have preferred more of a gallop although he would still not have beaten Hurricane Fly, but they would then probably have been a long way ahead of the third."
The Limerick trainer admitted: "The chances of beating Hurricane Fly on Sunday are very, very slim as Hurricane appears to be settling better in his races now and he is much better at the end of his races than he previously was.
"But there is good prize money -- €22,000 for second place -- but that won't be easy as there are a few other good ones in it."
Byrnes has earmarked Aintree rather than Cheltenham as a long-term plan for Solwhit, although he did give him an entry for the Festival in March, which is now only eight weeks away.
"Later on I felt, to be fair to the horse, he was entitled to have an entry in the English Champion Hurdle but we would be looking more at Aintree.
"I have absolutely no regrets that he's around at the same time as Hurricane Fly. He's won six Grade Ones and we're delighted to be there and if Hurricane wasn't around, something else would be," Byrnes concluded.
Hurricane Fly's trainer Willie Mullins added: "I'm very happy with the horse going into the race." His charge is 5/1 joint second favourite with Paddy Power for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.