Phil Cunningham will be an interested observer at Cheltenham this weekend as the form of Cinders And Ashes' Supreme Novices' Hurdle win is put on show.
Cunningham part-owns the Donald McCain-trained five-year-old, who enjoyed a gallop after racing at Bangor on Wednesday as he builds up towards the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on December 1.
Cinder And Ashes beat Darlan in March, before the runner-up went on to Aintree glory, and Cunningham is keen to see how Darlan fares as he is due to make his reappearance on Sunday.
"JP McManus (Darlan's owner) came over after the race and said the best horse won, so it seems strange that more people are talking about Darlan. It will be interesting this week to see how he gets on," said Cunningham.
"The Champion Hurdle looks wide open this year. Zarkandar is owned by a friend of mine, Chris Giles, and he put up a good performance at Wincanton to give all that weight away. We had lunch the other day and there was a good bit of banter flying around.
"I think it will be hard for Hurricane Fly to bounce back to the form he showed the year before, it's very rare that happens - Binocular hasn't managed it, has he? Of course there's last year's winner, Rock On Ruby, but I think he got the run of the race a bit.
"You want them all to be fit and well for their trials but you don't want them peaking until March, that's why you trust your trainer. We're hoping we can get to Newcastle in good shape, but if the week beforehand Donald doesn't think he's going to be quite fit enough to do himself justice, then he won't go.
"There's the International at Cheltenham, which is later. Overturn ran in them both last year, but the dates mean it can't be done this season.
"Donald said he needed the gallop and he had a blow, but he will come on a good deal for it and he was delighted that we'd done it. If he hits Cheltenham in the same form he was in last March, it will take a very good one to beat him.
"The minute he crossed the line last year we were focussing on the Champion Hurdle, we weren't tempted by Aintree at all and we hope it pays off."
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