He's unbeaten around Cheltenham but Flooring Porter is battling the clock and fitness worries if he's going to bid for a third Stayers' Hurdle title this season.
As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.
Flooring Porter has won the last two Stayers' Hurdle crowns while dominating matters from the front, but he's now facing a race against time just to line up in defence of his crown.
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||3.30, Thursday 16th March 2023|
|How to watch||ITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365 Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Home By The Lee 4/1, Klassical Dream 7/1, Blazing Khal 7/1, Teahupoo 7/1, Paisley Park 10/1, Flooring Porter 12/1|
Mid-January is a time when lots of horses are being put through their final tests with the Cheltenham Festival in mind.
It's certainly not the time when connections want a setback. That's the fate for Gavin Cromwell and Flooring Porter after the trainer revealed that their hopes of a third Stayers' Hurdle win are now in the balance.
The impressive all-the-way winner in the previous two renewals, Flooring Porter now finds himself as big as to complete the hat-trick on 16th March, which would see him emulate Inglis Drever and move within one victory of Big Buck's record.
Cromwell issued an update confirming the setback: "Unfortunately, Flooring Porter has suffered a setback and it's going to be tight as to whether he will make Cheltenham or not. I would say at this stage it's probably 50-50.
"It is not a career-threatening injury or anything like that, it is just a small setback which is going to hold us up a bit."
Flooring Porter's rise to the summit was one of the feel-good stories of National Hunt racing in recent seasons.
He was something of a rag-to-riches improver. He was beaten in his first four races and was only rated 95 when he won a maiden hurdle at Bellewstown in August 2019 over an extended two-miles.
Since landing a three-mile handicap hurdle at Gowran Park in July 2020 off a mark of 122, he has gone from strength to strength and he now boasts a rating of 162 having won at the last two Cheltenham Festivals after his breakthrough top-level success at Leopardstown in December 2020.
The enthusiastic ownership group that follows his every move have contributed to the Flooring Porter story immensely.
Ned Hogarty, who has a flooring business in Ireland, owns Flooring Porter with father and son Tommy and Alan Sweeney, as well as Kerril Creaven, and the scenes with them carrying winning rider Danny Mullins on their shoulders after last year's Stayers Hurdle victory were amongst the most iconic from Cheltenham 2022.
The '50-50' comment from Cromwell will have supporters of Flooring Porter feeling anxious but there's certainly no reason to give up hope.
Flooring Porter tends to save his best for the spring, with his Cheltenham Festival successes being the only wins he achieved of any description during 2021 and 2022.
He was beaten at Navan in the Lismullen Hurdle (fell) and in Leopardstown's Christmas Hurdle last season before roaring back to his best under another masterful front-running ride from 'Canny Danny' in the Cotswolds.
So, assuming he can prove his fitness, Flooring Porter would head for the Cotswolds off a very similar preparation to last time around.
Home By The Lee has won those two races in Ireland but was a most unlikely scorer at Navan given how he travelled.
The Joseph O'Brien inmate was off the bridle for a long way. He could manage only sixth behind Flooring Porter last March.
Cromwell is, no doubt, being cautious by nature and punters will be glad to have the update on Flooring Porter's well-being.
Those eager to be in his corner but keen to ensure they get a run for their money can do so via the bet365 non-runner no-bet Stayers' Hurdle market, where Flooring Porter trades at to retain his crown.