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Monday, December 6, 2004


Excitement is building as Friday and Saturday’s two-day December Meeting at Cheltenham draws closer, featuring top horses, trainers and jockeys.

The highlight is the £110,000 Grade Three bonusprint.com Gold Cup (2.40pm), a handicap chase over two miles and five furlongs, on Saturday and a very healthy 23 possibles went forward at today’s confirmation stage.

One of the supporting races on the Saturday is the £20,000-added Relkeel Hurdle (1.30pm), over an extended two miles five furlongs, which has attracted 10 entries including Monet’s Garden, a recent Grade Two scorer at Windsor,

The six-year-old’s trainer Nicky Richards revealed today: “I haven’t yet seen the opposition in the “Relkeel” Hurdle but that’s the plan for Monet’s Garden.

“He’s come out of Windsor very well and he’s in fine form. He’ll be getting his blood taken tomorrow and, if everything’s right and the ground is right, he’ll be running.

“I don’t think the ground was too soft for him at Windsor and, in fact, I don’t think he’d mind what ground it is - as long as it’s good, safe ground, he’d handle any ground I would have thought.”

When asked whether the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham in March is Monet’s Garden’s ultimate target for the season, the Cumbrian-based trainer said: “The “Relkeel Hurdle on Saturday is the target at the moment - let’s take it one race at a time!”

Monet’s Garden, who has won five of his six races, beat Monkerhostin by four lengths in the Coloroll Hurdle at Windsor over two and a half miles on November 19.

Richards may also be represented in another Cheltenham race on Saturday, the £75,000 totesport Bula Hurdle (3.15pm) by The French Furze who finished fifth to Harchibald in the Grade One Pertemps Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle last month.

The trainer explained: “I’ll have a look at the totesport Bula Hurdle for The French Furze - if I can nick some prize money I might run him as the old lad seems in grand fettle and we’ll see.

“He’s come out of Newcastle well - he’s an old soldier and he can look after himself! When the going gets tough, he doesn’t get going!

“He ran alright at Newcastle - at that level you’ve got to do everything right and especially a horse like him who does have his limitations in that class.

“He hit the third around the corner and then I thought he was just starting to run on nicely up the straight and he hit the second last pretty hard. He finished fifth and he might have finished fourth if he had jumped cleanly.

“Maybe nowadays you could nearly say that he probably wants two and a half miles. At two miles you’ve got to do everything spot on at that kind of level and he’s always been prone just to put the odd bad jump in.”

The totesport Bula Hurdle, run over two miles and one furlong, has 11 entries including 2003 Smurfit Champion Hurdle hero Rooster Booster, who will be bidding to win this prestigious event for a second time.

The 10-year-old was successful in the 2002 totesport Bula Hurdle. Trainer Philip Hobbs’s stable star was beaten just over six lengths into fourth by Irish raider Accordion Etoile in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Prestbury Park on November 14, when giving weight all round to his eight opponents on his seasonal debut.

The popular grey has been made 9/4 favourite by Corals while The French Furze is put in at 25/1. Rooster Booster’s most difficult opponent might be the Edward O’Grady-trained Back In Front, who is set to bid to become the first Irish winner since Condor Pan prevailed for Jim Bolger in 1988.

Back In Front, a 7/2 chance for Saturday, found just Harchibald a length and a half too strong in the Grade Two Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown last month on his first start over hurdles since last December.

Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Inglis Drever (100/30), runner-up to Harchibald in the Pertemps Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle last month, was confirmed a runner by his trainer Howrad Johnson today.

Other possibles include Royal Shakespeare (9/2), trained by Steve Gollings and third in the same event, and Martin Pipe’s Westender (11/2), who has twice finished runner-up at The Festival including to Rooster Booster in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle
The bonusprint.com Gold Cup looks like being a very competitive affair. Ante-post favourite Our Vic, 3/1 with totesport, will be taking on the seasoned chasers for the first time, having finished third to Rule Supreme in last season’s Royal & SunAlliance Chase at The Festival.

Thisthatandtother, runner-up to Celestial Gold in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on November 13, and the Philip Hobbs-trained Monkerhostin, who was a further five lengths away in third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and six days later finished runner-up in the Grade Two Coloroll Hurdle at Windsor, are next in the betting.

Massac has won his last three starts for the Million In Mind Partnership including the Life From Coloroll Chase at Windsor on November 20, while Seebald has finished runner-up on both starts this term, going down to Azertyuiop in the William Hill Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and triple totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Best Mate in the William Hill Chase at the same course.

Other likely runners include Tikram and Iznogoud, first and second in the Mildmay Of Flete Handicap Chase at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival, Farmer Jack, another Hobbs possible who won the totesport Wigan Chase on his seasonal bow at Aintree in October and came second to Le Roi Miguel in the totesport Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon the following month, and Europa whom in-form trainer Ferdy Murphy today said about: “The drier the ground the better for him and he should run a big race.”

The concluding race on Saturday’s seven-race programme is the £35,000 Grade Two Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle (3.45pm) over three miles which has 12 possibles.

Nicky Henderson’s Thames won a novices’ hurdle at Haydock by 11 lengths on Saturday, Brewster justified co-favouritism by two and half lengths from Monte Vista in the Jets Griffins Richard Davis Awards Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on November 14, and Football Crazy has also won at Prestbury Park, scoring by a length and a half in the Centaur Novices’ Hurdle in late October.

The £22,000-added Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase (12.55pm) over an extended two miles could see 17 go to post.

Massac and Non So, fourth in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle in
2003, are also engaged in the feature bonusprint.com Gold Cup. St Pirran gained the biggest success of his career at Cheltenham earlier this year when coming home two and a half lengths ahead of Ground Ball in the Grand Annual Chase, Tysou was only beaten just over a length and a quarter by Armaturk and Well Chief into third in the Beards Jewellers Cup Handicap Chase at Cheltenham last month, while Atum Re is good when he manages to finish as he has been first or placed on seven of his last 10 outings, but failing to finish the other three times.

Saturday’s brilliant card is completed by the opening £17,500 Mr Crumb Premium Stuffings Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle (12.20pm) over two miles one furlong with 16 entries, and the £20,000-added bonusprint.com Novices’ Chase (2.05pm) over two miles five furlongs with 19 young chasers engaged.

The feature event on the first day of the December Meeting, Friday, December 10, is the £50,000 Mears Group Handicap Chase (2.55pm), over an extended three miles and one furlong, which has attracted a fine entry of 22 staying chasers.

Among them are Howard Johnson’s Ballybough Rasher, who was last seen in action when winning last season’s Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby by six lengths from Marlborough and has an entry in the bonusprint.com Gold Cup as has Martin Pipe’s Celestial Gold, the one and three-quarter length winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Prestbury Park on November 13, who went on to score in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury two weeks later from Ollie Magern with Royal Auclair in third, and the Bridget Nicholls-trained Lord Noelie fourth.

Last season Lord Noelie was successful in the New Year Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, while he has been placed on each of his two starts this term including last time in the Servo Computer Services Trophy Handicap Chase at Prestbury Park last month, when coming home five and a half lengths adrift of Stormez.

Friday’s entertaining seven-race programme also features the £25,000-added C.F.R. Group (Electrical Services) Handicap Hurdle (2.20pm) over two miles and one furlong which has received 32 entries.

Seven of these top handicap hurdlers took part in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday including winner Monte Cinto, who was a length too powerful for Winsley, together with beaten favourite Manx Royal (6th), McBain (7th), Green Tango (9th), Desert Air (12th), Kingston Town (15th) and King Eider (18th).

Another Friday highlight is the £22,000-added Sporting Index Handicap Chase (1.45pm) over the unique undulations and obstacles of Cheltenham’s cross-country course.

The dozen possibles for this three mile, seven furlong event include Spot Thedifference, trained by Enda Bolger, and the Oliver McKiernan-trained Star Performance.

These two were first and second in last month’s Sporting Index Chase at The Open at Cheltenham, with the former getting the better of his compatriot by three parts of a length.

Third-placed Luzcadou could also do battle again as might Famfoni (6th), Felix Darby (8th) and The Quads (Pulled up).

The £20,000-added Ian Williams’ Owners Novices’ Chase (2.55pm), run over an extended three miles and one furlong, has attracted 16 young chasers including the Paul Nicholls-trained Cornish Rebel, unbeaten in two starts over the bigger obstacles, and Martin Pipe’s Control Man, who was tremendously impressive on his fencing bow when making all at Chepstow on Saturday, running on well to defeat Mixsterthetrixster by three and a half lengths.

The £20,000-added Pertemps Handicap Hurdle (Qualifier) (1.10pm) over three miles looks likely to be a tremendously competitive affair with 32 five-day entries including Lucy Wadham’s The Dark Lord, who won the Lombard Properties Handicap Hurdle at The Open by a length and a quarter from Mistanoora, and the Martin Pipe-trained pair of Liberman and Team Tassel. The former, successful in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2003, has won three of his last four starts over timber, while Team Tassel is unbeaten in two outings over hurdles including the Paddypower Casino Hurdle at Cheltenham on November 14, when he crossed the line a short-head before Billyvoddan. Team Tassel also has a entry in the Relkeel Hurdle on Saturday.

Friday’s card also has the opening £15,000-added DBS Buy At Tonight’s Breeze-up Sales E.B.F. ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle (12.00pm) over two miles and one furlong and the concluding £15,000-added Institute Of Directors Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Chase (3.30pm) over two miles and five furlongs.

Simon Claisse, Cheltenham’s Clerk of the Course, said today: “The going is currently Good on the chase and hurdle courses with a going stick reading of 8.1 and Good, Good to Soft in Places on the cross-country course with a going stick reading of 7.4.

“On the basis of the current forecast, little change is expected before the weekend.”

Admission prices for both days of the December meeting, Friday & Saturday, December 10 & 11, are Club/Tattersalls: £20; 16-24s: £12; Best Mate Enclosure: £6; Rooster Booster Raceday Package: £44 and Best Mate Raceday Package: £22.

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