Off to Wincanton in search of clues .....

First published in Horse Racing News by

Have saddle will travel. Or, in my case, have a clapped out old Audi will travel, as I'm on my travels and today I'm heading to Wincanton in search of some Champion Hurdle clues.

I left my North Yorkshire base on Wednesday and I've been lucky enough to spend a few days at Ditcheat with Champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

In truth I was slightly disappointed to hear Nicky Henderson's Grandouet will miss Wincanton's feature race, the Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle.

However, Henderson has 2010 Champion Hurdle winner Binocular to deputise for Grandouet, who has suffered a slight setback.

Binocular was expected to head straight to the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, taking in a racecourse gallop at Newbury yesterday along the way.

Henderson said: "We've had a slight change of plan as Grandouet has unfortunately banged a hind leg in his box overnight and can't run, but he's perfectly all right and he's just had to have some medication to clear it up.

"Hopefully he'll be all right in three or four days - the timing of it is just unfortunate.

"Consequently, Binocular, who was going to work after racing at Newbury today, is now going to run in the Kingwell.

"He was going to work soon after the last race, but it seems we might as well go and have a gallop round Wincanton and try to pick up some prize money.

"Nobody wants hard races at this time of proceedings. The two horses are now going to reverse roles and Grandouet will probably go for a racecourse gallop."

Nicholls is represented with the likeable Celestial Halo, who won the Elite Hurdle over course and distance at the start of the season and returns in good form having won his last two starts.

Owner Andy Stewart has welcomed the participation of Binocular and he is looking forward to watching the meeting.

"I can fully understand why Nicky is going to run Binocular with Grandouet being out," said Stewart. "Binocular is a good horse, he's won a Champion Hurdle and finished third when Celestial Halo was second to Punjabi.

"If we can't win on Saturday, I hope my good friend JP McManus (Binocular's owner) wins it.

"We're running here before hopefully going back for another crack at the Champion Hurdle. He's probably not good enough to win it, but that's the way we're going.

"He's fit and well so we'll give it a go and see how we get on."

Wincanton is Nicholls' local track but this afternoon he will bypass it in favour of Ascot were he has a host of chances.

Yes Kauto Stone, a half bother to stable star Kauto Star, has a solid chance in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase but I'm interesting in a couple of horses who are staring out their careers.

In the opening contest at 1.15pm, Nicholls thinks the world of Saint Roque and is fancied to get off the mark over timber.

Nicholls said: "We are still learning about him. He did win a point-to-point over three miles but I think he's very quick and should go close on the evidence of his home work."

In the bumper at 4.45pm Nicholls sends out two runners. Most people will be drawn to the fact that Ruby Walsh rides Atlantic Roller but I know the yard quietly fancy Sin Bin, who won on his only start last season.

Saint Roque and Sin Bin will be carrying a few pounds of mine and hopefully can pay for the petrol on the way home.

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