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Friday, January 25, 2013





Meeting: Festival Trials Day

Date: Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gates Open: 10.30am

First Race: 12.10pm

Admission prices from £12. Go to www.cheltenham.co.uk for further information


Hunt Ball will bid to enhance his Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup claims when he lines up in the £100,000 Grade Two Argento Chase (2.25pm), one of the highlights on a tremendous eight-race card at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, tomorrow, Saturday, January 26.


The eight-year-old, trained by Keiran Burke, features among 12 declared runners for the three mile, one and a half furlong contest and goes to the home of Jump racing on the back of a second in the rearranged Grade Two Peterborough Chase at Kempton Park over Christmas.


He already has valuable course form, having won the Listed Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase impressively at The Festival in March.


Burke said today: “Hunt Ball is absolutely buzzing and is in really good form. The weather has been rubbish but we have been able to get him out every day and we had him ready to run at Taunton so he has just been ticking over.


“I am hopeful of a big run and I think he has come forward for his run at Kempton. He is a big horse and it does him good to get a few runs into him.


“Obviously, the step up in trip is a little bit of a concern but he got three miles around in Aintree in a Grade One at the end of a long season so I’m not too worried.


“The only concern I do have is that if the ground is like glue but they are expecting rain and hopefully that will make it a bit easier for him.


“He is going to have to finish in the first three tomorrow to warrant running in the Gold Cup. If you think he is going to have any chance in the Gold Cup, he will have to finish really close up.”


Hunt Ball’s credentials will be tested tomorrow by 2010 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander,  trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies and having his first start since March, 2011, and rejuvenated 12-year-old Tidal Bay who hopefully teams up with Ruby Walsh for trainer Paul Nicholls if the chaser gets over a minor foot problem in time.


Talented but fragile performer Weird Al will line up for Donald McCain, while last year’s winner Midnight Chase, trained by Neil Mulholland and ridden by Dougie Costello, goes for the double.


Other notable contenders include Grands Crus, third in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton Park over Christmas, last season’s Pertemps Final scorer Cape Tribulation and Wayward Prince, who has bounced back to his best form in two starts this term for owner Hilary Parrott, who trains the horse under permit.


The action at Cheltenham also features the rearranged Grade One Victor Chandler Chase (1.50pm, nine runners). The extended two-mile contest promises to be a cracker with Jump racing’s brightest star Sprinter Sacre, unbeaten in six starts over fences, clashing with last year’s winner Somersby, Sanctuaire and William’s Wishes, who is also defending an unbeaten record over fences.


The eight-race extravaganza features three more Grade Two races, headed by the £60,000 Rewards4Racing Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm, 10 runners) over three miles. Nicky Henderson’s Oscar Whisky will be chasing his fifth win at Prestbury Park but his first over three miles and faces competition from Reve De Sivola, Crack Away Jack, Walkon and Grade One-winning chaser Kauto Stone.


Two of this season’s most exciting novice hurdlers, Coneygree and The New One, will put their winning records on the line in the £30,000 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (3.00pm, five runners) over an extended two and a half miles, while the opening £30,000 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (12.10pm, nine runners) should throw up Festival pointers with unbeaten juveniles Irish Saint, Rolling Star and Knight Of Pleasure all facing the starter.




Lucinda Russell harbours Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup ambitions with her stable star Bold Sir Brian and the seven-year-old goes for the £50,000 Grade Three Murphy Group Handicap Chase (1.15pm, 16 runners) carrying 11st 7lb after impressive victories at Haydock and Sandown this season.


The £25,000 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (12.40pm, 13 runners) and the £25,000 Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.10pm, 16 runners) complete the card.


Cheltenham is fit for racing and passed an inspection at 8am this morning ahead of tomorrow's Festival Trials Day.


The racecourse remains confident of racing going ahead tomorrow but, in the interest of taking all possible scenarios into account, is holding a precautionary inspection at 7am tomorrow morning.


The going is currently soft.


Simon Claisse, head of racing at Cheltenham, said at 1.30pm today: “The covers are now off the course, with the exception of the take offs/landings and other vulnerable areas of the course.”


Festival Trials Day is the final day’s racing at Cheltenham before The Festival, which this year runs from Tuesday, March 12 through to Friday, March 15.






The build-up to this year's John Smith's Grand National steps up a level when the entries close on Tuesday, January 29 for the £975,000 showpiece and are announced the next day.


The great chase takes place on the third and final day of the John Smith's Grand National Meeting at Aintree on Saturday, April 6, 2013 and will be run over the new distance of four miles, three and a half furlongs for the first time.


Lion Na Bearnai displayed a tremendous attitude when successful in last season's Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in April and his trainer Thomas Gibney is planning a tilt at the John Smith's Grand National


Gibney, based in Co Meath, said: "Lion Na Bearnai seems in good form at the moment and he will go for the Bobbyjo Chase at the end of February.


"Then, all being well, he will go on to Aintree for the John Smith's Grand National - I think he is an ideal type for the race.


"I would put his disappointing run in the Hennessy at Newbury last time out down to a virus. I got a virus in the yard in October before he ran in the Hennessy and I thought the horses were OK but they weren't.


"I've been struggling to clear the yard of the virus ever since but we think we are getting on top of it now although I don't want to say for sure until we start having a few winners.


"At first we thought he might have just been outclassed and, although I don't think he would have been knocking on the door, I thought he should have finished a lot closer."


Lion Na Bearnai is a 33/1 chance with Betfred for the John Smith's Grand National and will try to emulate Bobbyjo (1999) and Numbersixvalverde (2006), who won the Irish Grand National en route to Aintree glory.


Ireland's champion jump trainer Willie Mullins won the John Smith's Grand National with Hedgehunter in 2005 and looks to have a good chance of repeating the feat withOn His Own and Prince De Beauchene. The pair are rated 16/1 shots with Betfred and those odds are also offered about Betfred Becher Handicap Chase runner-upJoin Together.


Join Together is trained by Paul Nicholls, who gained his first John Smith's Grand National victory last year with Neptune Collonges. The seven-time champion trainer is also looking forward to running the rejuvenated Tidal Bay (12/1 favourite with Betfred).


Welsh handler Tim Vaughan, one of the rising stars of the training ranks, is planning to run 2011 Scottish Grand National hero Beshabar (20/1), who has been off the track since coming home fifth in the 2011 Hennessy Gold Cup and also has last year's John Smith's Grand National fourth  Cappa Bleu (16/1).


Other likely contenders include Welsh National runner-up Teaforthree (20/1), as well as Sunnyhillboy (20/1) and Seabass (16/1) who finished second and third in the 2012 John Smith's Grand National.


The entries for the 2013 John Smith's Grand National are announced on Wednesday, January 30, with the weights revealed on Tuesday, February 12.




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