Wednesday February 8

The Listed Sidney Banks Hurdle at Huntingdon may not be able to boast the star names on its recent roll of honour that it could in the golden years, when the likes of Grand Canyon (1976), Nick the Brief (1988) and French Holly (1998) were successful, but its timing makes it the perfect dress-rehearsal for the Cheltenham Festival.

French Holly went on to win the Sun Alliance Hurdle (now sponsored by Baring Bingham) and that is the route planned for Messire des Obeaux, who has his prep-race for March 15 at one of Alan’s favourite racecourses tomorrow.

Alan has made no secret of his opinion that however smart the improving Messire des Obeaux proves over timber then he’ll be even better when he goes chasing next year, but he has done everything we have asked of him over the smaller obstacles this winter and is still one of Barbury’s biggest hopes for Cheltenham.

Looking ahead to Huntingdon, where the stable have such a good record, Alan said:”Messire des Obeaux is 3-3 this season and has enjoyed a nice break since winning the Challow at Newbury six weeks ago, but this will be a tough task as he has an 8lb penalty. However, he’s in great form and learning all the time, so we hope for the best.

“We also run both Gibralfaro and Who Dares Wins in the £30,000 handicap hurdle which follows the feature. The pair are likely to run in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham, though Gibralfaro is also entered for the Martin Pipe.

“I don’t really want to run them against each other tomorrow, but as they’ve missed other options recently I have no choice. I don’t know which will come out on top, but both will enjoy the trip. The step up in distance clearly suited Gibralfaro at Newbury, and Who Dares Wins, having won the Gerry Feilden there, found them going a bit too quick for him subsequently at Ascot, so we feel that he, too, will benefit from going up in trip.

“Finally, we have Passing Call going for the mares bumper. She ran very well on her debut at Warwick and I might have run her back too quickly when she then disappointed us at Wetherby. She’s had a good break and is another who will be suited by stepping up in distance, so, hopefully, she will also run well.”