Alderwood fancied for finale
Man On The Spot previews all the action from the final day of the Cheltenham Festival.
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It's more than 10 years since there was an Irish-trained winner of this juvenile Grade 1 but there is plenty of confidence behind Dessie Hughes' Our Conor, who is unbeaten in three starts and had yesterday's impressive Fred Winter winner Flaxen Flare well behind when winning at this level at Leopardstown last month. Diakali, who finished second, may struggle to reverse the form here and is closely matched with Stocktons Wing, who has also had a rear view of Our Conor this winter. The probable favourite has yet to be tested in an end-to-end gallop, however, and there are some promising novices lining up to take him on. Rolling Star won a Grade 2 on his UK debut here in January and could be anything while Far West has already won twice here, though has only raced on very soft ground so far. Vasco Du Ronceray is another French import expected to go well but it may be too soon to write off SWNYMOR. He certainly wasn't at his best when beaten by Somemothersdohavem and King Of Dudes at Doncaster last time but was on the comeback trail after picking up an injury when falling in the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow in December when going clear. He's clearly talented and could be a big price now. The hard-pulling Kashmir Peak may struggle to last home here.
Five of the last six winners of this competitive handicap have been trained in Ireland so it must be worth paying particular attention to those that have travelled across the water. Willie Mullins has three entered, though Abbey Lane was unplaced in the Coral Cup on Wednesday. Tennis Cap beat Discoteca at Leopardstown last month while Midnight Game won at Fairyhouse and Thurles in December, but is less favourably weighted. AP McCoy is on the reliable Princeton Plains for Eddie Harty but we are hoping for a big run from TED VEALE near the foot of the weights. He ran very well behind Abbey Lane on his handicap debut at Leopardstown in January and should turn the form around on 11lb better terms. Tony Martin's charge may have a bit more scope than some of these. The home team could be headed by Dan Breen, who has been running well without reward this season, though Ifandbutwhynot is in great form and beat Imperial Cup second Tanerko Emery here in November. Olofi often runs well in these big-field handicaps and Cotton Mill only found My Tent Or Yours too good in the Betfair Hurdle, though has been raised 5lb since. Ranjaan would have a chance on last year's form and looks best of the rest.
If the weather forecast is correct, the rain will have already have got into the ground by the time the tapes go up for this contest and that can only help AT FISHERS CROSS. He's probably surprised even trainer Rebecca Curtis with the progress he's made this season but his form is very solid on soft going and, after beating today's rival Inish Island over 3m here in December, he outstayed Wednesday's impressive Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle winner The New One over 2m5f at the track in January. He can get the better of Inish Island's stablemate Ballycasey, successful at Clonmel and Thurles this winter, and the mare Utopie Des Bordes. African Gold is a tough novice and should give another good account while O'Faolains Boy, another Rebecca Curtis runner, is improving fast and could sneak into a place. Cloudy Copper also warrants a mention, as does Our Vinnie, but this looks too tough for Aaim To Prosper as he was well handicapped when getting off the mark at Doncaster a couple of weeks ago.
Sir Des Champs went some way towards redeeming his reputation when beating three rivals in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month but his overall form this season is some way below that of the home team. Silviniaco Conti has improved over the last 12 months and beat a possibly under-cooked LONG RUN and last year's Gold Cup second The Giant Bolster at Haydock in the autumn. His victory in the Denman Chase at Newbury last month, when The Giant Bolster was again behind, should have put him spot-on for this but he probably wouldn't relish a slog through the mud over this longer trip and his lack of experience over these fences is a big worry. We think Nicky Henderson holds all the aces in the meeting's blue riband contest and are going to take the Waley-Cohen's 2011 winner to regain his crown. Though he can sometimes let himself down with his jumping, the eight-year-old simply oozes class and showed he could also battle when wearing down Captain Chris to win the King George in the Kempton mud on Boxing Day. The smaller field this year is probably in his favour as he should have more time to measure his fences. Bob's Worth is the obvious danger and shouldn't be underestimated. Winner of the RSA Chase last season and successful in the Albert Bartlett 12 months earlier, he's been well backed for a Festival hat-trick and was hugely impressive when beating subsequent Grade 1 winner Tidal Bay in the Hennessy at Newbury in November. Cape Tribulation won over hurdles here a year ago and has got his act together lately over fences but needs to improve again on his win in the Argento Chase here in January to figure.
Luck and jockeyship always play a part in this but last year's first and second, Salsify and CHAPOTURGEON, have to go on the short-list again. We fancy the runner-up to reverse the form this season as Jack Barber possibly held up the grey too far off the pace last year and he used up a lot of energy in just getting to Rodger Sweeney's charge at the last. A second successive victory in a normally informative Newbury hunter chase should have blown away any cobwebs. Salsify won at Leopardstown last month, however, and arrives in good form again while last year's third Oscar Delta couldn't be ruled out despite running a shocker in that Leopardstown race. Cottage Oak is highly regarded and slammed Current Exchange by 13 lengths at Haydock but the ground may be too soft for Dante's Storm, who pulled clear of Rumbury Grey over this trip at Doncaster, and the once-useful Tricky Trickster was surprisingly beaten at Ffos Las last time. That's Rhythm may have had his chance and prolific Irish pointer Backstage hasn't shown anything like the same form under Rules and Divine Intavention is a much better horse on fast ground.
Gevrey Chambertin has by-passed all of the novice events to run in this. Unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, David Pipe would love to win this for obvious reasons and the grey has every chance despite his big weight. Salubrious easily justified favouritism at Musselburgh last month and should be thereabouts again while Bourne won well at Kempton over Christmas and hasn't been disgraced in a couple of hot handicaps since. EDEYMI was second in the Fred Winter here last year and looks to have been laid out for this. He certainly caught the eye having been held up at Leopardstown last time and won on the Polytrack earlier. Tony Martin's five-year-old may be the one to beat with Shane Shortall taking off 8lb. Toner D'Oudairies could also go well back over hurdles while Village Vic is probably better than he's shown so far and Ma Filleule won a Grade 2 at Warwick last month. That form hasn't really worked out but Nicky Henderson's mare could be well handicapped. Double Ross and Make Your mark are others with claims.
The Henderson yard saddled three of the first four in this last year and are again mob-handed. Second Tanks For That and fourth Anquetta will again face the starter as will Kid Cassidy, who started favourite, and French Opera who fell. Barry Geraghty rides the latter but the stable also have top weight Petit Robin and the promising Tetlami. Past winners Oh Crick and Oiseau De Nuit are others who should feel at home. Benefficient won yesterday's Jewson but would have a penalty to carry if turned out again in this. His Excellency was third in the Arkle on Tuesday under a patient ride and would have every chance on that form if taking part while Ulck Du Lin is on a hat-trick after victories at Newbury and Ascot, though has taken a hike up the weights and Paul Nicholls also runs course and distance winner Shooters Wood. Drumshambo has had a terrific season but may be in the handicapper's grip now and is giving a couple of pounds to ALDERWOOD. A Grade 1 winner over hurdles last season and also successful under McCoy in last year's County Hurdle, Tom Mullins' nine-year-old has improved with experience over fences and is potentially thrown in here. Rody may be best of the rest but, though impressive lately, has a bit to find with Drumshambo on earlier form.