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Sunday, December 30, 2007


French raider targets Utopia Group "Dipper" Novices' Chase

Cheltenham Racecourse ushers in the New Year by racing on Tuesday, January 1 and the excellent seven-race card features the £60,000 Listed Turf TV New Year Chase (2.10pm), run over two miles and five furlongs on the New Course.

The entries for Tuesday's handicap chase are very good, with 25 horses entered. Le Volfoni, one of three from champion trainer Paul Nicholls, heads the weights on 11st 12lb after finishing second in the boylesports.com Gold Cup over course and distance on December 15 and coming third in this race last year.

The other Nicholls' hopes are five-year-old Officier De Reserve (11st 2lb) who won a Newbury handicap chase earlier this month, and Nycteos (11st 1lb), a recent winner over hurdles at Kempton.

Cumbrian-based Nicky Richards has two entered in the Turf TV New Year Chase but Faasel (11st 11lb), fourth in the boylesports.com Gold Cup, is more likely to run in the Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle later in the afternoon and the trainer will instead rely on Harmony Brig who won the Rehearsal Chase over three miles at Newcastle last time out.

Richard said today: "Harmony Brig will run in the Turf TV New Year Chase. I was delighted with his performance at Newcastle and he seems in good form.

"He will be staying on up the hill at Cheltenham and the only fear is the race could be too short for him. If he is good enough, the three-mile handicap chase (the William Hill Trophy) will be his target at The Festival in March."

Harmony Brig made his seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham in October on the Old Course over two miles, four and half furlongs and stayed on to be sixth to Knowhere.

One of his opponents on Tuesday is likely to be Kelrev (10st 8lb) whose trainer Alan King said today: "Kelrev will run while my other entry Howle Hill could also turn up but is more likely to wait for Sandown. It was Kelrev's first outing for me when he won a Newbury at the start of the month. We have given him a bit of time to freshen up again and we hope he runs well."

David Pipe, enjoying a good run in big races including the boylesports.com Gold Cup and the boylesports.com International at the last Cheltenham meeting, has two entries - Milan Deux Mille (11st), yet to run this season, and recent Ascot winner Vodka Bleu (10st 13lb).

The Nicky Henderson-trained Fondmort won the prestigious contest in 2006 en route to a course and distance follow-up in the Grade Two Ryanair Chase at that year's Festival, while Too Forward, trained by Carl Llewellyn, won the 2007 renewal and is entered again.

The 2003 running of the Turf TV New Year Chase was another high-class affair with the Ferdy Murphy-trained Ballinclay King, previously a winner of the Grade One Maghull Novices' Chase at Aintree, landing the spoils from 1999 JCB Triumph Hurdle victor Katarino, while third place went to the gallant Grey Abbey who was subsequently the top-rated staying chaser in Britain in the 2004/2005 season.

The quality of the day is further enhanced with the running of the £21,000 Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle (3.20pm), which was won 12 months ago by the classy Grade Two winner Flight Leader, trained by Colin Tizzard. The race takes places over an extended two and a half miles.

There is a top-class entry, headed by Afsoun, Black Jack Ketchum, Blazing Bailey, Wichita Lineman, Faasel and Gaspara.

Richards is particularly pleased with Faasel at the moment. The seven-year-old started this season by running Black Jack Ketchum to a neck in a Wetherby Grade Two hurdle over three miles and one furlong before switching to fences in the boylesports.com Gold Cup.

The trainer said: "I will probably run Faasel in the hurdle rather than the chase because it looks like being the easier race for him to win. He would nearly have top-weight in the handicap chase.

"We are leaning towards this race but we will have to double check what is going to run.

"He is fine form which is why I want to run him on Tuesday. He ran a good race in the boylesports.com Gold Cup though he is another who may prove best over three miles."

King also has a likely runner in the Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle - Blazing Bailey though recent Cheltenham winner Pouvoir will not take his chance.

The Wiltshire-based trainer commented: "Blazing Bailey will run. He was very disappointing first time out and then a bit more like himself at Newbury. He is in good order. Two and a half miles will be plenty sharp enough but he is ready to have a run. Hopefully, he will run well and then go on to the Byrne Bros Cleeve Hurdle (Grade Two) at Cheltenham later in January (Saturday, January 26)."

The £35,000 Grade Two Utopia Group "Dipper" Novices' Chase (1.35pm) is proving to be one of the most informative contests for novices, having been won by two top-drawer performers since it was first run at Cheltenham in 2006.

The brilliant My Way De Solzen scored an impressive 17-length victory in the two mile, five furlong contest in 2007 before winning the Grade One Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at The Festival in March. Alan King's charge was a top-class hurdler and won the Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle over three miles at The Festival in 2006.

The Listener has established himself as one of the best chasers in Britain and Ireland since triumphing in the 2006 renewal of the "Dipper" Novices' Chase, which he took under top-weight from Napolitain, with subsequent Grade One Royal & SunAlliance Chase hero Star De Mohaison in third.

The Listener, trained by Robert Alner, has since gone on to success in the Grade One Lexus Chase at Leopardstown and the Grade One John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.

The 2007 Utopia Group "Dipper" Novices' Chase has attracted a fine entry of 17 including the French-trained Okaido who has recent wins at Auteuil and Bordeaux to his credit. The six-year-old, trained by Arnaud Chaille-Chaille, is on target for the Cheltenham race and due to arrive at the racecourse tomorrow.

There are also three from Howard Johnson's powerful County Durham stable - the hat-trick seeking Cedrus Libani, Carlisle winner Akilak and top-class hurdler No Refuge.

Nicholls can choose between Plumpton winner Dear Villez and four-year-old Predateur, while Moon Over Miami and Albertas Run were both successful at The Open at Cheltenham in November.

The £27,000 Chinese State Circus At Centaur Handicap Chase (1pm) is run over an extended three and a quarter miles and last year's contest went the way of the classy Cornish Rebel who, carrying top-weight of 11st 12lb, held The Bajan Bandit by a length and three quarters, with Fork Lightning third and subsequent Scottish Grand National third Parsons Legacy taking fourth.

Another top-weight Joaaci triumphed in 2006 when beating the 2005 winner Lord Of Illusion, with Fork Lightning again third.

The Peter Bowen-trained Always Waining is the top-weight among the 26 entries for Tuesday's race.

The 11-year-old mare Just Beth, trained by Joe Fierro, saw off Ladalko to win last season's renewal of the £27,000 Unicoin Homes Handicap Hurdle, run over three miles and due off at 2.45pm. The top-weight this year is Oscar Park who won the Pertemps Final at The Festival last year.

The day kicks off with the £16,500 Club 16-24 Annual Big Bash National Hunt Novices' Handicap Hurdle (12.25pm) over two miles and a furlong, which in 2007 went the way of the Charlie Mann-trained William Bonney.

The concluding race is the £16,500 Listed EBF "High Sheriff of Gloucestershire's Millennium Junior" Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (3.55pm) over a mile and a half, which was won last season by Quartano. The gelding was both trained and ridden by Carl Llewellyn and had subsequent Grade One Weatherbys Champion Bumper runner-up Sophocles seven lengths back in second.

Richards intends running both his entries, the Kelso winner Autumn Harvest and the Wetherby scorer Weather Front.

The trainer said: "They are two nice little horses and both should run nice races."

The going at Cheltenham is currently good to soft, with a GoingStick reading of 7.2 and showers are forecast for today and tomorrow.

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