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A CRACKING weekend of national hunt action with the Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Cheltenham, 2.20) at the centre of the betting circus at the headquarters of jump racing.
This year’s event is dominated by those at the head of the market and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that we have two potential Festival winners in the line-up in the form of the The Real Whacker (Gold Cup) and Stage Star (Festival Trophy).
I am not so sure that the latter really wants a slog at this trip and to my eyes, much will depend on the state of the ground. The Real Whacker is sure to be at the sharp end throughout and being a big, robust horse, his welter burden shouldn’t prove a problem. Both of these classy animals are probably where they should be in the market place, and I am prepared to let either of them win in favour of an each-way call on the under the radar Willie Mullins-trained charge AUTHORIZED ART.
I am not wholly convinced that this eight-year-old stays three miles, and a well-run race at this intermediate trip looks more his port of call. A repeat of his second to Ash Tree Meadow in the Galway Plate would surely be good enough to put him in the mix here and he gets the vote over the two potential high flyers along with another outsider from the Emerald Isle, Final Orders.
Fergal O’Brien has always held a high opinion of ALAPHILIPPE and the now nine-year-old looked as though he had retained the majority of his ability following a 588-day break when a distant second to Good Risk At All on his chasing debut at Carlisle. The selection has 16 lengths to find with that rival here, but there are tentative reasons why he should get a deal closer.
Firstly, his conqueror has always gone well fresh and has shown a distinct liking for the Cumbrian track in the past and not for Prestbury Park. Secondly, the selection has run well here on both of his starts, in the Spa Novices’ Hurdle and in the Premier Handicap race when he was a cracking runner-up to Third Wind in March. Badly outpaced coming down the hill on his fencing debut, he rallied nicely up the final climb, but blew heavily after the race and should take a massive step forward fitness wise, as he must to win this and reverse the form with his talented rival.
Weverallbeencaught is also a danger if we get a true run race. He ran on strongly late on when three and three-quarter lengths off Flooring Porter on his chasing debut. I actually think that he has the perfect profile for the National Hunt Chase, but is sure to be running on up the final climb here.
The other race of interest from a betting perspective at the Prestbury Park track is the amateur jockey’s handicap chase over an extended three miles at 1.10. A mark of 136 very much plays in the favour of TEA CLIPPER and he is the pick in the hope that the ground isn’t too clawing.
You could draw much optimism from his seasonal return at Chepstow when a six length second to Stolen Silver at the Welsh track. The association of William Biddick is a huge plus for the chances of eight-year-old, and they are just preferred to the likes of Wayfinder (probably wants better ground as well) and Outside The Door. The last named was a real eye-catcher in a staying hurdle last time out at Punchestown.
The Listed Churchill Stakes (2.36 Lingfield) is the chief event on the sand at the Surrey track and affords a big chance for FOREST OF DEAN to return to winning form. The seven-year-old needs a good pace to run at to tow him into the contest, which he certainly didn’t get in the Middle Distance Championship race at Newcastle in spring. He has a fair record when fresh and with several pace elements in this race I suspect that the son of Iffraaj will get this mile-and-a-quarter contest run in his favour and is the pick at around 9/2.
Of the handicaps on the card, I fancy that GREATGADIAN has a big chance of following up his Newcastle win, running off a 5lbs higher mark in the 2.10, while we may not have seen the very best of KINTA (3.11) yet and although she looked well suited to the return to turf at Newmarket last time out, I think she is worth giving another chance to on the sand.
The Grade Two Lismullen Hurdle (2.05) at Navan sees the return to action of the much maligned Bob Olinger who seemingly lost his way last year. The fact that he has been kept in training is maybe a pointer to his chance of revitalising his career this year. But the percentage call has to be ZANAHIYR who doesn’t stay three miles and has a turn of foot over this trip to see off his five rivals.
The Grade Three Novice Hurdle at 1.30 has produced some smart winners down through the years, but none that have gone onto Championship level performances later on in the season. So may be that trend will be bucked here with SHE’S A FINE WINE, in receipt of plenty of weight from the boys. It was only a moderate maiden hurdle she won at Limerick, but she travelled like a dream that day and jumped efficiently and could be worth a stab before taking on the very best novices in the land.
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