Today is Champion Hurdle day at Cheltenham and there were many who weren't going to overlook last year's winner Binocular when placing their bets. 

Binocular's trainer, Nicky Henderson, was quoted in the Racing Post at the weekend that curlews usually return to his yard at Seven Barrows on the Monday of Festival week, but that this year they were 'back from Norway' two weeks early.  It's an interesting observation and fits with the general earlier arrival of spring and of spring migrants. 

curlew - Photo, Steve RoundHenderson's curlews are unlikely to have come back from Norway - they may have been sticking their long curved beaks into the mud on one of our estuaries, perhaps the Severn, or maybe they have been risking being shot in northern France.  Like Henderson, those curlews may be hoping that the going is around the 'good to soft' mark - the curlews can then probe for earthworms and Long Run may find the ground to his liking in Friday's Gold Cup.  Although the weather forecast looks like we will have weather suitable for quaffing champagne in picnics in the car park this week (but then - what weather isn't suitable for that?) and the Cheltenham course dries out pretty quickly these days, so I'd expect the going to be on the good side.

But all that is irrelevant for Binocular who has been withdrawn from today's big race because there are still traces of a medicine in the gelding's blood that would cause him to fail the post-race drugs test if he did win.  Maybe those curlews' early arrival wasn't a good omen.

  • mirlo - very interesting given that it is written by an ex-wildfowler.  Thank you.

    trimbush - too early for marsh warblers wasn't it?

    lazywell - that's the first time you have ever asked me for advice

  • Well this is really strange Trimbush agreeing with Mark and Sooty agrees with Mirlo,think this must be your leaving party Mark.

  • Mark, your mention of curlew shooting in Northern France led to me recalling when I was a member of WAGBI ( wildfowlers association of Great Britain and Ireland) now part of BASC. I was shooting duck at dawn on one of the Solway salt marshes around 35 years ago and a few hundred yards away were two other shooters who were repeatedly firing their shotguns. It wasn't until later when  it was a lot lighter that I realised they were shooting at curlews. The curlews often have a distinctive flight line along the estuary at dawn flight and as the tides change. I watched these two guys walk away empty handed and decided to  see how many curlew they had killed. There were around 50 or 60, some had been placed in a pile and some just left scattered around where they fell. I took a couple home to eat and they tasted awful just as you would imagine estuarine mud to taste. I was pretty disgusted by the action of these two guys. What a waste of these beautiful birds lives. It was this experience along with similar bad experiences of other wildfowlers that led me to giving up wildfowling.  I am not saying all wildfowlers at this time were irresponsible , but some of the visitors definitely were. Even now when I am perhaps doing a  dawn count of pinkfeet geese flighting off the estuary there are often wildfowlers shooting at these out of range geese at heights of perhaps upto 150 metres and you can hear the shotgun pellets bouncing off the geese's feathers.

    I found the following article which wishes to return curlews as a shooting quarry pretty hard to understand. It describes the curlew as a sporting bird and  suggests that it is exciting to shoot these birds. I do not think so.

  • I reckon Mark is ‘visiting’ RSPB reserves all around Cheltenham this week – I would be

    Can I put it on record that this is the first of Mark’s blogs with which I wholly agree!  I'm surprised he hasn't linked direct to the Racing Post website!

    Shame for Binocular, his connections and the punters! but there’s a horse running in the 1:30 – Marsh Warbler – 20-1 – each way?