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Wednesday, February 29, 2012



There are just 13 days to go until The Festival gets underway at Cheltenham on Tuesday, March 13, and excitement will build following today’s announcement of the weights for the 11 handicaps staged at the four-day meeting.

The Festival’s opens with Champion Day on Tuesday, March 13, which includes the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase in which antepost favourite Hold On Julio has been allotted 10st 11lb. Market leader Scotsirish has 11st 9lb in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Handicap Steeple Chase on the same day, 3lb behind his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate and top-weight Uncle Junior.

This season’s most-improved handicapper Hunt Ball, whose latest success came at Kempton on Saturday, has been given topweight of 12 stone in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Highlights on Wednesday, March 14, Ladies Day, include the ultra-competitive Coral Cup, in which King Of The Night, Restless Harry and Smad Place share top-weight of 11st 12lb.

The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle is headed on 11st 10lb by Baby Mix, who is expected to miss the race and instead head for the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle. The well-backed antepost favourite Vendor has been given a weight of 10st 4lb.

The gutsy Restless Harry heads the Pertemps Final on the third day of The Festival, St Patrick’s Thursday, on 11st 12lb, while Hunt Ball has a weight of 10st 8lb in the same day’s Byrne Group Plate.

Amateur riders get a chance to shine in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase in which the J P McManus-owned Arbor Supreme, who has joined Jonjo O’Neill this season, has top-weight of 11st 12lb.

On Friday, March 16, Gold Cup Day, the Paul Nicholls-trained five-year-old Brampour is 6lb clear of his nearest rival with a top-weight of 11st 12lb in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle.

A victory at Fontwell on Sunday since his original entry in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle has seen the Colin Tizzard-trained Third Intention given 12st 6lb to carry.

The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase, which brings the curtain down on The Festival, is headed on 11st 12lb by French Opera, trained by Nicky Henderson, whose father is commemorated in the race title.




Entries for all 27 races at The Festival are now in the public domain following the unveiling of those for the Grade Two OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, the Grade One Weatherbys Champion Bumper and the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase today.

Our Girl Salley, a Grade Three winner over hurdles at Leopardstown in December, goes for the £70,000 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (for the David Nicholson Trophy) over two and half miles on the opening day, Champion Day, Tuesday, March 13.

Her trainer Prunella Dobbs, based in Co Wicklow, said: “Our Girl Salley is going to run in OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – she has been in very good form.”

Our Girl Salley was last seen finishing third at Ascot on January 21, when she tackled three miles for the first time, but her trainer believes the seven-year-old did not get the rub of the green during that race.

Dobbs continued: “I don’t think the trip was a problem – she did stay the three miles. I think it was more how the race was run that was against us. There was no pace because the horse that would have probably made the running was taken out in the morning - it became a sprint and that didn’t really suit us.

“I think a strongly run two and a half miles at Cheltenham will suit and the better ground at Cheltenham will not bother her. The race will be very testing with Quevega in the field and it will be a big ask to beat her, but I hope we will have a good outing.”

The Willie Mullins-trained Quevega, who is going for an unprecedented fourth victory in the race, heads the 28 entries and could renew her rivalry with last year’s third Alasi. Other notable entries include Grade One winner Unaccompanied, high-class chaser Blazing Tempo and last season’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle winner What A Charm.

The Weatherbys Champion Bumper over two miles and half a furlong on the second day of The Festival, Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 14, has attracted 39 entries, including 10 from Ireland.

Mullins, who has won this race on six occasions, has four entries including Champagne Fever, who was an impressive winner at Fairyhouse on January 22. Brian Hamilton’s well-touted Moscow Mannon could bid for a fourth successive victory, while Clonbanan Lad may put his unbeaten record on the line.

Notable British trained entries include the John Ferguson-trained duo of Population and New Year’s Eve, who have both won their two starts in good fashion. Colin Tizzard, successful in 2010 with Cue Card, could saddle Royal Guardsman, while Nigel Twiston-Davies has Cheltenham scorer The New One engaged.

The Christie’s Foxhunter Chase over three miles and two and a half furlongs on the final day of The Festival, Gold Cup Day, Friday, March 16, has received 44 entries.

Notable horses engaged include the Queen’s Barbers Shop, successful in two hunter chases this season, and Chapoturgeon, who won the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase at The Festival in 2009 when trained by Paul Nicholls. John Smith’s Grand National entry Roulez Cool, owned and trained by the chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse Robert Waley-Cohen, went off favourite for this contest in 2010 only to be brought down four fences from home and could be atone for that misfortune this year, while Cloudy Lane is a possible runner for Donald McCain. The Irish challenge is headed by Salsify, winner of a competitive handicap at Leopardstown on February 12.




Victor Dartnall is hoping for a wet spell as he prepares Giles Cross for the John Smith’s Grand National, run over four and a half miles and 30 fences at Aintree on Saturday, April 14.


The 10-year-old features among 77 horses going forward for the £975,000 contest following the first scratchings deadline on February 28, details of which are announced today.


The 10-year-old was last seen when winning the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock Park over three and a half miles on February 18, having previously finished a game second to Le Beau Bai in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on December 27. Giles Cross has been allotted 10st 1lb for the Aintree spectacular and, after his victory 11 days ago, is 6lb “well in” on handicap ratings.


North Devon-based Dartnall said: “It all depends on the ground for Giles Cross. He will be in the Irish Grand National as well, but if it looked like it was going to come up soft at Aintree we would be very tempted.


“Good to soft ground would probably be all right, though if we had a wet time we will definitely be there.


“I was very pleased with his effort at Haydock, they (the handicappers) have given him a 6lb rise, but he is in the John Smith’s Grand National off his old mark which makes it even more tempting to run at Aintree.


“He didn’t really have a hard race at Haydock because he did everything on the bridle, and Denis O’Regan gave him a very confident ride.



“I think Giles Cross would be an ideal type for the John Smith’s Grand National. He jumps very well and like I said, if the ground came right for him, I would love really to go there.”


Giles Cross is currently a 20/1 chance with Betfred, the official betting partner of the John Smith’s Grand National meeting.


Last weekend featured a number of fancied John Smith’s Grand National contenders putting their credentials on the line, with the most impressive performance coming from Prince De Beauchene in the Grade Two Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse. The nine-year-old won comfortably over the three miles, one furlong trip and is following a well trodden path after the Willie Mullins trained Hedgehunter to capture the Bobbyjo Chase and John Smith’s Grand National in the same season in 2005. As a result Prince De Beauchene is now 9/1 clear favourite with Betfred.


The Fairyhouse feature also saw a pleasing return to the racecourse from Black Apalachi, who finished second to Don’t Push It in the 2010 John Smith’s Grand National, but he had not been seen on a racecourse since. However, the 13-year-old ran on well from the rear to take second, while stable companion Rare Bob faded to finish fifth and fellow John Smith’s Grand National hope Alfa Beat was pulled up before the last.


In the Grade Three Racing Plus Chase over three miles at Kempton Park, Hector’s Choice qualified for Britain’s richest jump race by finishing second ahead of Hennessy runner-up Planet Of Sound.


Ted Walsh, who won the John Smith’s Grand National in 2000 with Papillon, saddled Seabass to a sixth straight success under Rules on Sunday in the Grade Two Paddypower.com Chase at Naas over two miles. The nine-year-old is now 16/1 for Aintree glory with Betfred.


Last season’s John Smith’s Grand National hero Ballabriggs will be seen for the first time since in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster or the Premier Chase at Kelso this weekend, where he is likely to face According To Pete and Abbreybraney who also hold John Smith’s Grand National ambitions. Long time ante-post favourite Junior has also been given an entry in the in the Grimthorpe Chase, but the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup in just over a fortnight is also an option.


At the first scratchings deadline all the leading contenders have stood their ground including top-weight Synchronised, Betfred Becher Chase victor West End Rocker, Sky Bet Chase winner Calgary Bay, and Nicky Henderson’s Burton Port, who returned from a long absence to finish a promising second to Long Run in the Grade Two Denman Chase at Newbury on February 17.


The next scratchings deadline for the John Smith’s Grand National is on Tuesday, March 20.


The 2012 John Smith’s Grand National meeting runs from April 12 to 14 and showcases top-class racing on each day.


Tickets and hospitality packages are still available. Visit www.aintree.co.uk for more details or call 0844 579 3001.


John Smith’s Grand National – Betfred bet: 9/1 Prince De Beauchene, 14/1 Junior, 16/1 Ballabriggs, Burton Port, Seabass, Synchronised, West End Rocker, 20/1 Cappa Bleu, Chicago Grey, Giles Cross, Midnight Chase, Neptune Collonges, On His Own, Quel Esprit, Roberto Goldback, Treacle, 25/1 Apt Approach, Calgary Bay, Deep Purple, Hold On Julio, Massini’s Maguire, Planet Of Sound, Roulez Cool, Shakalakaboomboom, The Midnight Club, 33/1 According To Pete, Alfa Beat, Always Right, Always Waining, Backstage, Becauseicouldntsee, Hector’s Choice, Killyglen, Le Beau Bai, Niche Market, Organisedconfusion, Pearlysteps, Quantitatitveeasing, Quiscover Fontaine, State Of Play, Stewarts House, Sunnyhillboy, Viking Blond, Weird Al, 40/1 Arbor Supreme, Ballyvesey, Fair Along, Mon Mome, Postmaster, Rare Bob, Some Target, Tatenen, The Package, Uncle Junior, Vic Venturi, 50/1 Another Palm, Any Currency, Black Apalachi, Hello Bud, Midnight Haze, Northern Alliance, Our Island, Scotsirish, Shakervilz, Swing Bill, Tartak, Tharawaat, Wymott, 66/1 Crescent Island, In Compliance, Psycho, Saddlers Storm, Schindler’s Gold, 100/1 Abbeybraney, King Fontaine, Minella Theatre, Neptune Equester, Smoking Aces



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