STAFF at Cheltenham Racecourse are more than hopeful of beating the cold snap ahead of their high profile two-day international meeting this weekend, where a top-class card is further boosted by the fact that the Tingle Creek Chase, lost to the weather at Sandown last weekend, will now be run at the Cotswolds venue on Saturday.
Ground staff at Prestbury Park have been working tirelessly over the past week to put down frost covers over the entire track and, provided the elements allow, Saturday’s card looks like being a terrific day’s racing.
The feature race, the December Gold Cup, has been re-named the Vote AP Gold Cup in a bid to boost champion jockey Tony McCoy’s bid to win the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Award and this two-mile, five-furlong contest has attracted a very good field.
Eighteen horses stood their ground at the final declaration stage last Monday, with quite a few who competed in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the track last month again listed for duty.
Paddy Power winner, Little Josh, who scored a memorable victory for the father and son team of Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies, will return in search of further big-race success, while Michael Hourigan’s Dancing Tornado, who finished best of all to take second on that occasion, will bid to turn the tables on his then conqueror.
It is by no means a two-horse race, however, as champion trainer Paul Nicholls has two entries, Robinson Collenges and top-weight Poquelin. In-form Nicky Henderson has a live contender in the Barry Geraghty-ridden Dave’s Dream, who landed a gamble when bolting up in a handicap chase at last month’s meeting. Meath trainer Tony Martin is always a man to be respected in these valuable handicaps and either of his two runners, Physco or Northern Alliance, warrant respect.
Spancilhill trainer Noel Glynn has Gonebeyondrecall engaged but the seven-year-old, who was controversially withdrawn at the start of last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup, is only 50-50 to travel.
The addition of the Tingle Creek to the card is a major boost for fans travelling to Prestbury Park and the star attraction here is Master Minded. The dual Queen Mother Chase winner surrendered his crown to Big Zeb last March but the manner of victory on his return to action at Ascot recently suggested the Clive Smith-owned chaser is back to his best.
Paul Nicholls’ runner is sure to go off a warm order at what is surely his favourite course with Noel Fehilly, who suffered a wrist injury at Ascot that was feared would keep him on the sidelines for a month or more, looking set to make a quicker than expected return to the saddle.
Stiff opposition to Master Minded is likely to come from his stable companion Twist Magic, while Henrietta Knight’s Sommersby, course winner Gauvain from the Nick Williams camp and Ferdy Murphy’s Kalahari King are others to consider as alternatives to the favourite.
Also on the card is the Stan James International Hurdle, known in the past as the Bula Hurdle. Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, Menorah, staked his Champion Hurdle claims with a fine weight-carrying performance in the Greatwood Hurdle here last month and Philip Hobbs’ charge is on the upgrade. He faces a stiff challenge, however, from latest hurdling sensation Cue Card.
A runaway 33/1 winner of the Champion Bumper at the festival in March, Cue Card has really captured the imagination since going over timber and the manner of his victory over the course last month was scintillating to say the least.
Trainer Colin Tizzard and his jockey son Joe are reported to be considering a crack at the Champion Hurdle with Cue Card rather than a novice event and much more will be known after he tests the water against his more experienced rivals on Saturday.
A New Story, who did his Ennis owners’ Sean Moran and Christy Guerin proud when winning at the festival last March, is among the entries for the Glenfarclas Cross County Chase on Friday. Michael Hourigan’s 12-year-old really took to this unique course when giving Adrian Heskin a great spin on that occasion and, if making the trip, is capable of putting up a good show.
Tubber trainer John Staunton has his good servant, Volcanic Rock, also entered here and it will be interesting to see how this 10-year-old, who gave the up-and-coming Staunton his first winner in the UK when scoring under champion point-to-point rider Derek O’Connor at Cartmel last May, fares if lining up in this three-mile, seven-furlong contest.
Limerick launches four-day Christmas festival
LIMERICK Racecourse launched their upcoming four-day Christmas Racing Festival at a function in Limerick recently where Russell Ferris, manager of the Greenmount Park course, unveiled their plans for the big Christmas bonanza.
Ferris said, “Limerick Racecourse has something for everyone this Christmas and the four-day festival runs from December 26 to 29. We have an exciting Christmas Village Marquee area this year where patrons can enjoy a covered viewing area of the big screen.”
Local trainers Michael Hourigan, Eric McNamara, Paddy Neville and Andrew McNamara were present to hear that prize money over the four days at this Grade 1 track is set to reach over €400,000. St Stephen’s Day is the biggest afternoon of the year at the course and a Grade 2 Chase, won last year by the JP McManus-owned Dancing Tornado, looks set to attract all the top novice chasers in training.