By Jon Lees
Last year’s Champion Hurdle-winning trainer Gavin Cromwell believes big improver Darver Star has a lot of the attributes needed for the race he landed 12 months ago with the ill-fated Espoir D’Allen.
This time last year Darver Star had yet to win over hurdles, but heads to Cheltenham having won four of his last six races and recorded a running-on second in the Irish Champion Hurdle, half a length behind Honeysuckle who runs in the Mares’ Hurdle.
As a result he is now a shorter price in the betting than Espoir D’Allen was when he delivered Cromwell’s first Festival success in capturing the Champion Hurdle by 15 lengths at 16-1 for the widest winning margin in the race’s history.
“In the real world if you’d said to me this time last year that Darver Star would be running at a Cheltenham Festival, I would say you were bonkers, let alone running in a Champion Hurdle with what I consider would be a good place chance,” said Cromwell.
“He has improved 48lb from 104 to 152. He only had his first career start in December of 2018 in a bumper on heavy ground. He ran OK. He was a late starter because he had a tendon injury.
“I can’t explain all of his improvement. But since he started winning he has just improved from run to run and hopefully he hasn’t stopped.
“He will need to improve again to win a Cheltenham Champion Hurdle. But I wasn’t hugely happy with him going to Leopardstown. He did surprise me. He came out of Leopardstown brilliantly. He worked really well there on Monday. I am very happy with his prep.”
Espoir D’Allen could have dominated the hurdles division, having won nine of his 10 starts, but suffered a shoulder injury in a freak accident last summer and had to be put down, aged five.
Cromwell said: “It’s a massive disappointment not to have him anymore. On the flip side it was brilliant to win a Champion Hurdle with him.
“Darver Star comes from a totally different profile and preparation to Espoir D’Allen. I think he ticks plenty of the boxes that you need. Not that I have a huge amount of experience of the Champion Hurdle, but I did have the winner last year.
“He jumps very well and seldom makes a mistake. He travels quite well, might not have a turn of foot, but stays really well. For a Champion Hurdle you need to travel well and stay well. You don’t necessarily need to quicken. That’s just my opinion.”
Darver Star’s breeders Pat Cluskey and Sean Fanning comprise the SSP Numbertwentytwo Syndicate with Simon Fagan, who won €3.6 million on the lottery in 2013 – 22 was the number of the final ball.
Cromwell said: “Pat and Sean considered Simon a very lucky guy and drafted him into the ownership. I think it’s proven to be a good idea.”