LETHEBY & CHRISTOPHER CHASE THE IDEAL TRIAL FOR STATE OF PLAY
Wichita Lineman heading for Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle
Meeting - Festival Trials Day, Saturday, January 26
Advance Admission Prices - Club/Tattersalls £18, Best Mate £8
Gates Open - 10.30am
First race - 1pm
Vale of Glamorgan trainer Evan Williams is aiming his totesport Gold Cup hope State Of Play at the £100,000 Grade Two Letheby & Christopher Chase (2.40pm) on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday, January 26.
The prestigious race, run over an extended three miles and a furlong, is a traditional stepping-stone to the totesport Gold Cup and has attracted 13 top-class entries.
The Welsh handler revealed this morning: “State Of Play is entered in the Letheby & Christopher Chase and we are planning to run him. He has come out of the Lexus Chase really well and I am happy with him.
“We looked around at our options and the choice was either carrying a big weight in a handicap or going to Cheltenham and seeing if we can get some of that good prize money that is on offer.”
State Of Play, the 2006 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup winner, ran a creditable race in the Grade One Lexus Chase at Punchestown on December 28, when fifth to Denman. The eight-year-old was in contention until outpaced in the closing stages of the slowly run three-mile contest.
Williams’ charge had previously finished a game runner-up to Ollie Magern in the Grade Two bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November, conceding six pounds to the winner. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ollie Magern is likely to reoppose in the Letheby & Christopher Chase.
Williams reported: “The great thing about State Of Play is that he always gives 100 per cent, but I think to be seen at his best he needs a very strongly run race and he didn’t get that in Ireland last time.
“If you look at the Charlie Hall Chase, it was a fiercely run race and he ran incredibly well. The Hennessy too is always run at a ferocious pace and I think it does help him as it finds the cracks in other horses. He is such a genuine horse that he always does his best work at the end.
“He is so adaptable in terms of the going. He will run on good to firm and he can go on quite soft ground”
State Of Play was sixth in the 2007 totesport Gold Cup, beaten just under 12 lengths by the brilliant Kauto Star, and Williams is hoping for another good effort in jumping’s blue riband.
He said: “State Of Play ran an exceptionally good race at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup last year. The more we look at it, when you consider how good the horses who finished in front of him are, he wasn’t beaten far and it was an exemplary effort.
“The more you analyse it and look at how the race developed it is brilliant to see how good a race he ran. We will see how we get on in the Letheby & Christopher Chase and then perhaps go straight for the totesport Gold Cup again.
“Paul (Moloney) and Christian (Williams) ride the horses so all being well Paul will ride State Of Play on Saturday.”
The fantastic entry for the Letheby & Christopher Chase also includes last year’s victor and totesport Gold Cup runner-up Exotic Dancer from the Jonjo O’Neill yard, the Paul Nicholls-trained Grade One Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup winner Neptune Collonges and Grade Three Racing Post Chase winner Simon, from the John Spearing yard.
Trainer David Pipe has engaged King George VI Chase runner-up and Cheltenham specialist Our Vic as well as the top-class but lightly-raced Celestial Gold, winner of the 2004 Paddy Power Gold Cup, and the smart Madison Du Berlais.
The remaining entries are Billyvoddan, Knowhere, Faasel and the Francois Doumen-trained pair of Kelami and L’Ami.
The Letheby & Christopher Chase is an excellent pointer to the totesport Gold Cup with past winners including See More Business. The Paul Nicholls-trained star landed the spoils in 1998 and was third to Cyfor Malta in 1999, the year of his totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph. He scored a second victory in the race in 2001.
The Noel Chance-trained Looks Like Trouble in 2000 and the Kim Bailey-trained Master Oats in 1995 both triumphed in the Letheby & Christopher Chase en route to totesport Gold Cup glory the same year.
Festival Trials Day is the final chance to see racing at Cheltenham prior to The Festival. The fantastic seven-race card features no less than four Grade Two contests as well as the hugely competitive £55,000 Grade Three Betchronicle.com Trophy Chase (2.05pm) over two miles, five furlongs, which has attracted 24 classy entries.
The 2007 Festival Trials Day produced plenty of clues to subsequent Festival glory with no less than five horses (Inglis Drever, Katchit, Massini’s Maguire, Wichita Lineman and Idole First) who competed that day going on to triumph at the main event.
Blazing Bailey won last year’s renewal of the £60,000 Grade Two Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle (3.50pm). The Alan King-trained gelding held subsequent Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner Inglis Drever in the three-mile contest and both horses are among a tremendous 18-strong entry.
J P McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry today confirmed that Ladbrokes World Hurdle hopeful Wichita Lineman is on target for a crack at the Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle.
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding won the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle on this card 12 months ago before going on to land the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival in March.
This season, the seven-year-old finished fourth to Hardy Eustace on his seasonal debut at Ascot in November before coming the eight-length second at Prestbury Park to Blazing Bailey in the Steel Plate & Sections Hurdle on New Year’s Day.
Berry revealed today: “The plan is to go to Cheltenham on Saturday and Wichita Lineman in good form ahead of the race.
“Jonjo is very pleased with him at home. He came out of his run on New Year’s Day well and the probable soft ground shouldn’t inconvenience him.
“We’ll get Saturday out of the way first, but I’m sure that he’ll go straight to The Festival for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.”
Others among the entries for Saturday’s race include Irish pair Kazal and Sonnyanjoe, plus Chief Dan George and Lough Derg, successful on his last two outings at Ascot in Grade One and Grade Two company. Francois Doumen has entered Millenium Royal, while Emma Lavelle has this race as an option for Labelthou, successful in a Grade Two contest at Ascot on Saturday.
The £30,000 Grade Two Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle (3.15pm) is a fantastic pointer to the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival and the Alan King-trained Katchit won both races in 2007.
The two mile, one furlong race has attracted 16 entries including the King-trained Franchoek who is set to seek revenge on the Gordon Elliott-trained Harper Valley, the latter having proved a length an a half too good in the Boylesports.com Best Odds Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on December 15.
The £30,000 Grade Two Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle (1.00pm) was won last year by Wichita Lineman who subsequently triumphed in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival. The third that day, Massini’s Maguire, won the Grade One Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle at the 2007 Festival.
This year’s contest has attracted 26 entries including the Nicky Henderson-trained Aigle D’Or, a classy Flat performer in France who easily won his sole start over hurdles at Lingfield on January 4.
The day also features the £25,000 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (1.30pm) over two miles, five furlongs and the £25,000 Brightwells Cheltenham Bloodstock Auctions Handicap Hurdle (4.25pm) over two miles and a furlong.
LATEST GOING AT CHELTENHAM
Cheltenham Racecourse Clerk of the Course, Simon Claisse, revealed this morning: “The going on the chase and hurdles courses is currently soft, with a Turftrax going stick reading of 6.6. The outlook is settled with 10-15mm of rain expected up to Friday. The forecast suggests that Friday and Saturday will be dry days.
“I’m delighted with the strength of the entries and we have a great race in prospect with the Letheby & Christopher Chase.
“Both the Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle and the Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle have attracted excellent entries and will be thrilling contests. All in all it will be a great day’s racing.”
RICHARDS HOPES FOR HARMONY IN SKY BET CHASE
The Listed £75,000 Sky Bet Chase (3.00pm), which returns to Doncaster following the Yorkshire track’s stunning £34-million redevelopment, has gained a bumper entry of 48 today.
The three-mile contest, run at Southwell for the last two years, usually attracts some of the season’s leading chasers and this year’s renewal looks set to be another top quality affair.
Nicky Richards hopes that Harmony Brig will line up in Saturday’s feature race at Doncaster and the Cumbrian-based handler is confident that the nine-year-old gelding will be suited to a return to three miles.
Richards said: “Harmony Brig has been entered in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on Saturday and he will hopefully run. He’s come out of his last run at Cheltenham fine, and he probably needs a good three miles anyway.”
Harmony Brig, currently a 20/1 chance for Saturday’s contest with sponsors Sky Bet, was an impressive winner of the three-mile Listed Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on December 1, before finishing down the field over half a mile shorter at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Richards has few concerns over the ground and reckons that Harmony Brig has the class to run a big race in the Sky Bet Chase on the gelding’s first start at Doncaster.
He continued: “I wouldn’t want to risk him on heavy ground, but he’s won three of his four starts on soft ground and should line up on Saturday if the ground is not bottomless.
“He’s a very decent performer on his day, having won the Rehearsal Chase and having been placed in Grade Two company over hurdles. He shouldn’t have any problem with Doncaster as he needs to go left-handed, and I hope to see a good run on Saturday.”
The Paul Nicholls-trained Opera Mundi, a game winner of a three-mile handicap chase at Haydock on his latest start in November, heads the sponsor’s market for the Sky Bet Chase and the six-year-old is rated a 5/1 chance to give the champion trainer his second victory in te race following Colourful Life’s success in 2005.
The Ditcheat-based handler could also be represented by Grade One novice chase winner New Little Bric (14/1 with Sky Bet), while Charlie Mann has engaged Bagan (12/1), who was impressive on his first start over three miles when scoring in novice company at Newbury in December.
Other notable entries include David Pipe’s unexposed chaser An Accordion (12/1), Keith Reveley’s Borders National hero Rambling Minster (14/1) and the Alan King-trained Yardbird (14/1), who was an impressive winner of a three mile handicap chase at Kempton over Christmas.
Sponsor’s prices for the Sky Bet Chase: 5/1 Opera Mundi, 12/1 An Accordion, 12/1 Bagan, 14/1 Alderburn, 14/1 New Little Bric, 14/1 Rambling Minster, 14/1 Standin Obligation, 14/1 Ungaro, 14/1 Yardbird, 16/1 Brooklyn Brownie, 16/1 Dream Alliance, 16/1 Model Son, 18/1 Maljimar, 20/1 Aztec Warrior, 20/1 Bob Hall, 20/1 Butler’s Cabin, 20/1 Caipiroska, 20/1 Dusky Warbler, 20/1 Harmony Brig, 20/1 Idle Talk, 20/1 Jaunty Times, 20/1 Juveigneur, 20/1 L’Ami, 20/1 Limited Edition, 22/1 Ardaghey, 22/1 Kelami, 22/1 Kerry Lads, 22/1 Ma Yahab, 25/1 Burntoakboy, 25/1 Captain Corelli, 25/1 Henry’s Pride, 25/1 Lidjo de Rouge, 25/1 Royal Rosa, 25/1 Thistlecraft, 28/1 Aleron, 28/1 Herecomestanley, 28/1 Mister McGoldrick, 33/1 Alright Now M’Lad, 33/1 Brooklyn Breeze, 33/1 Hard Act To Follow, 33/1 Himalayan Trail, 33/1 Our Armageddon, 33/1 The Reverend, 40/1 Lampion du Bost, 40/1 Undeniable, 66/1 Korelo, 66/1 Red Scally,100/1 Arumun
Saturday’s Doncaster card also boasts two Grade Two contests, including the £50,000 Doncaster Mares Only Hurdle (2.25pm), run over an extended two miles. An entry of 23 is headed by Nicky Henderson’s exciting seven-year-old Chomba Womba and the Jane Makin-trained Annie’s Answer, who was a game winner of a Listed event at Wetherby on her latest appearance in November.
The extended three mile Grade Two £30,000 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (3.30pm) has attracted 22 entries, including Jeremy Scott’s prolific scorer Gone To Lunch and the Keith Reveley-trained Tazbar, who scored by 38 lengths at Newcastle in December.
Doncaster’s Clerk of the Course and Estates Manager David Williams is optimistic that racing will go ahead, despite the recent weather conditions.
He said: “The ground was soft, good to soft in places at 7am this morning, but we’ve had over 20mm of rain since so that will change. All of the significant rain is forecast for today and the forecast for the rest of the week is better. We should be fine for Friday & Saturday.”
CHELTENHAM TO RENAME 2008 RUNNING OF NATIONAL HUNT CHASE IN HONOUR OF SIR PETER O’SULLEVAN
It was today (Monday, January 21, 2008) announced that Cheltenham Racecourse is to rename the 2008 running of the National Hunt Chase at The Festival in honour of Sir Peter O’Sullevan, master commentator, journalist, racehorse owner and charity fund-raiser, who shortly celebrates his 90th birthday.
The race, on Wednesday, March 12, will be known as the Peter O’Sullevan National Hunt Chase for one year, as Cheltenham’s celebration of his 90th birthday on March 3.
The National Hunt Chase is the race around which The Festival was originally established and 2008 is the 138th year of the contest. In its early years, the race moved around the country, but since 1911 it has been firmly located at Cheltenham.
This year, the long distance novices’ chase reverts to the Old Course and a distance of four miles, with the prize money increased by 50 per cent to £75,000. In 2007, it was won by subsequent Irish Grand National winner Butler’s Cabin. Graduates from the race in recent years include Silver Birch, Hot Weld, Miko De Beauchene, Celestial Gold, Stormez and Timbera.
Edward Gillespie, Managing Director of Cheltenham Racecourse, said: “Anyone with even a passing interest in horseracing is in awe of the contribution that Sir Peter has made to the sport in so many ways.
“He was a hugely successful journalist, enjoyed many profitable transactions with his friends in the bookmaking industry and has been a tireless worker for charity, but it is as the doyen of racing commentators that he is best known and loved.
“He always seemed to find the ideal way to describe the most iconic races and in Cheltenham’s rich history, his commentaries of the Gold Cup wins of Arkle in 1964, 1965 and 1966, Dawn Run in 1986 and Desert Orchid in 1989 will never fade.
“We are delighted that Peter has allowed us to name a race after him at The Festival for 2008, which will give generations of racegoers the opportunity to show their appreciation of ‘the voice of racing’.”
Sir Peter O’Sullevan, who first visited The Festival in 1935 to witness the epic Gold Cup encounter between Golden Miller and Thomond II and was successful as an owner at the National Hunt Meeting 39 years later, commented: “I am greatly flattered and honoured to have my name associated with the historic National Hunt Chase. I was ‘lucky’ enough to commentate on the race for many years, including in the days when the course took the runners out of view behind the car park at the back of the stands!
“Cheltenham has always been a special place for me as an owner, journalist and commentator, but also as a lifelong fan of our wonderful sport. Seeing my name linked with a race at The Festival this year will rank alongside the privilege of commentating on Arkle’s breathtaking Gold Cups and the joy of calling home for BBC viewers my own little Triumph Hurdle hero Attivo on March 14, 1974.”
Sir Peter will also have his name added to a race at Glorious Goodwood this year on Wednesday, July 30, and Goodwood’s Managing Director Rod Fabricius was keen to add his own tribute: “For many years, the things that best summed up Glorious Goodwood were the stunning setting, the competitive racing and the commentaries of Peter O’Sullevan.
“We’re therefore thrilled that Sir Peter will have a race named in his honour at that meeting in 2008. I entirely echo Edward’s sentiments about the impact that Peter has had on racing as a whole, but he also has a special place in the hearts of everyone here at Goodwood and we are looking forward to welcoming him back as a very special guest this summer.”
Reacting to this news, Sir Peter O’Sullevan said: “I’m thrilled to receive a similar honour at Goodwood. For eight decades, no less, my annual return to the most scenic racecourse in the world has been a personal highlight. Both Cheltenham’s and Goodwood’s charming gestures will make 2008 especially memorable for me.”