EYE CATCHERS: Training performance of the week: Paul Nicholls Hors La Loi.
Jesus himself was only required to spend 40 days in the wilderness; Hors La Loi was there a little longer - 978 days, to be precise.
The 2002 Champion Hurdle winner had not been seen in action - as opposed to inaction - since trailing home behind Sacundai in the Aintree Hurdle in April 2003. The dual Festival winner, who had had a bad back and a cracked pelvis, and had also developed a nasty habit of refusing to race, was now ten years old and many might have been forgiven for thinking that he was too old to be taught new tricks.
Paul Nicholls doesn't think that way, and ever since the old stager joined his yard in September he had been plotting his comeback. He sent him to Taunton last Thursday for his debut over fences in a 2m3f novice contest, a race for which the Racing Post Spotlight writer said: ". . . much too risky . . . anyone's guess as to whether he'll take to chasing."
Nicholls doesn't guess. He and his staff had sweetened Hors La Loi up nicely and, although he had a bit of a think when the tapes went up, he threw in some exuberant leaps on the way to a two-and-a-half-length defeat of Cossack Dancer.
Nicholls' horses are in blistering form at the moment and there seems every possibility that he may be able to hang on to his championship lead, especially while perennial rival Martin Pipe remains in the doldrums. Even if he does, the transformation he wrought from Hors La Loi will still be one of the high spots of his campaign.