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Wednesday, January 9, 2013





The countdown to The Festival 2013 heats up today with the unveiling of the entries for the Grade One Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, which takes place on Gold Cup Day, Friday, March 15 and boasts a record prize fund of £550,000 (up from £500,000 in 2012).

            A total of 40 entries have been received for chasing’s Blue Riband, which takes place over an extended three and a quarter miles, with Nicky Henderson responsible for five contenders. The master of Seven Barrows looks to hold a particularly strong hand as his hopefuls include Betfred’s 3/1 favourite Bobs Worth, winner of this season’s Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury and unbeaten in four outings at Cheltenham including at the last two Festivals. Henderson has also entered the 2011 scorer Long Run, who finished third in 2012 and won the King George VI Chase for a second time at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. Finian’s Rainbow, successful at The Festival last season in the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase, could step up in distance, while Henderson’s two other entries are last season’s Ryanair Chase scorer Riverside Theatre and Roberto Goldback.

            The days of Kauto Star and Denman may now be over but reigning champion trainer Paul Nicholls still has a strong team for 2013, including Silviniaco Conti, who recorded an impressive first Grade One victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in November and the revitalised Tidal Bay, who defeated Ireland’s best chasers in the Grade One Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28. Kauto Stone, Kauto Star’s half-brother, and What A Friend complete Nicholls’ quartet of entries.

            A dozen entries hail from Ireland, including Betfred’s 5/1 second favourite Sir Des Champs. The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old landed the Jewson Novices’ Chase at last year’s Festival and was a staying-on fourth behind Tidal Bay at Leopardstown. Flemenstar appeared to find three miles the limit of his stamina in the Lexus Chase, when he finished a close third to Tidal Bay and First Lieutenant, but trainer Peter Casey has stated he wishes to give the eight-year-old another try at the distance in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 9 before deciding on a target at The Festival.

            An intriguing entry is the Tom George-trained Mail De Bievre. The eight-year-old was a high-class performer in France, where his successes included the Grade Two Prix Murat over two miles and six furlongs in April, 2010. However, Mail De Bievre has not been seen out since finishing fourth over hurdles at the same venue in September, 2011.

            George said today: “Mail De Bievre has been with me for a couple of months. He came over from France a year ago and did his pre-training with Chloe Roddick before joining me.

            “He is a very exciting horse to have in the yard. He had an injury but touch wood hopefully he has got over that. We are just taking things one step at a time with him. So far, everything is going according to plan.

            “The plan is to go for the Denman Chase at Newbury with him as that looks a good place to start. You don’t know with horses until they run, but he looks right and is showing us all the right signs. Newbury will tell us where we are with him.

            “His form in France is the best. I asked the handicapper just out of interest what his mark would be and they said as his last mark in France was 175, they would now rate him 160 due to the time he has been off the track.”

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