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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Meeting - New Year’s Day, Cheltenham Racecourse
Dates - Thursday, January 1, 2009
First race -12.30pm
ISDN facilities are available for radio interviews if required

Cheltenham once again ushers in the New Year with a superb seven-race programme tomorrow, Thursday, January 1, 2009, which includes the return to Prestbury Park of last year’s Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle runner-up Franchoek, who takes his chance in the £25,000 Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle (3.20pm).

The J P McManus-owned gelding enjoyed a fantastic first season over hurdles, gaining Grade Two glory at Cheltenham with victory in both the Cleanevent Juvenile Novices´ Hurdle at The Open in November and the Wragge & Co Juvenile Novices´ Hurdle on Festival Trials Day in January, as well as winning the Grade One Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow over the Christmas period.

He began this campaign with two pleasing efforts over a longer trip, beaten just over six length on his seasonal debut in a Grade Two hurdle at Ascot on November 22 and following up with a close third in a handicap hurdle at Exeter on December 5, when he was conceding upwards of 19lb to all his rivals.

Trainer Alan King, who saddled subsequent Grade One winner Blazing Bailey to victory in the Steel Plate and Sections Hurdle 12 months ago, is looking forward to seeing Francheok return to Cheltenham and is keen to see how he gets on in the extended two and a half mile contest.

The Barbury Castle handler commented: “We didn’t want to run Francheok over three miles until after the Christmas period and the Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle looks an ideal race for him in terms of trip.

“I thought his Exeter run was very good at the weights, especially as he only had one other horse in the handicap and he was giving weight away on ground that was very testing. He seems to have come out of that race in good nick and I am hoping that he will run well tomorrow, especially on a track that suits him well.

“He was a proper stayer on the Flat as a three-year-old, so I would like to think that he would improve with a step up in distance. We will see how he gets on in the Steel Plate and Sections Hurdle before deciding whether to run him over three miles and the possibility of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at The Festival.”

Franchoek faces four rivals in the Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle, including the David Pipe-trained Lough Derg, successful in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, 2007, No Refuge, who took the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival in 2005, and Five Dream from the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

King is also set to be double handed in the £55,000 Grade Three skybet.com Handicap Chase (2.10pm), with both Il Duce (11st 4lb) and The Hairy Lemon (10st 8lb) among 14 declarations for the two mile, five furlong, contest.

Il Duce comes into the race on the back of a fine fourth in the Grade Three Paddy Power Gold Cup at The Open, having been beaten a neck by L’Antartique in the same contest 12 months earlier. The rising nine-year-old has now finished in the frame on six of his 10 appearances at Cheltenham, including another second in the Grade Two Mears Group Silver Trophy Chase Limited Handicap at the April Meeting last season.

King continued: “Il Duce seems to keep his best races for Cheltenham and I was very pleased with his run in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. He seems to be in pretty good nick at home and I would be hopeful that he could run another decent race around his favourite course.

“He goes well fresh but he can be a difficult horse to catch right. He is probably high enough in the weights at the moment. He was entered in the Boylesports.com Gold Cup and it was unfortunate that the meeting was lost, so this seemed the logical alternative for him because he loves Cheltenham.”

The Hairy Lemon enjoyed a profitable first campaign over fences last season, winning handicap chases at Newbury, Taunton and Kempton, prior to coming home eighth in the Listed Jewson Novices´ Handicap Chase at The Festival in March. He began the current campaign with a sixth in a Grade Two handicap chase at Ascot on November 22.

King added: “The Hairy Lemon was also due to run in the Boylesports.com Gold Cup. He had a very good campaign as a novice but is probably still suffering under a higher rating this term and is perhaps looking a bit exposed at the moment.

“He has come on for his appearance at Ascot and he went into that race a bit burly. Charlie Huxley will be taking 5lb off him tomorrow which will help him, but it’s not easy with second season chasers.”

The weights for the Three skybet.com Handicap Chase are headed by Galway Plate winner Oslot (11st 12lb), who represents the same trainer/jockey/owner combination of Paul Nicholls, Ruby Walsh and the Stewart family who took this race with Le Duc in 2005.

Exciting dual Grade Two-winning novice Hobbs Hill (11st 7lb) is set to make his first racecourse appearance of the season for Charles Egerton, while the Nicky Henderson-trained Grade Two scorer My Petra (11st 4lb) is set to return to Cheltenham having finished second in the Grade Three Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup at The Festival in March.

Other interesting contenders include Private Be (10st 11lb) and Three Mirrors (11st 2lb), who finished third and fifth respectively on the Paddy Power Gold Cup and Stan (11st), who got the better of Il Duce in the Mears Group Silver Trophy Chase Limited Handicap at the April Meeting. The sponsors will be pricing up the skybet.com Handicap Chase in advance, with early prices available from around 4.00pm today.

Five exciting novices go to post for the £35,000 Grade Two “Dipper” Novices’ Chase (1.40pm). Also run over two miles and five furlongs, the race already boasts a impressive tradition of providing a stern test for future champions since it was first run at Cheltenham in 2005, with The Listener (2006) and My Way De Solzen (2007) having gone on to success in Grade One company.

Both Kicks For Free, beaten a nose in last season’s Coral Cup, and the progressive Tartak come into to the race after finishing second in Grade Two novice chases at Newbury in November, while recent Doncaster novice chase runner-up Calgary Bay, successful over hurdles at Cheltenham last season, lines up for Henrietta Knight.

The field is completed by the unexposed Kealshore Boy and The Cool Guy, who finished second to subsequent totesport Gold Cup winner Denman in the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle in 2006, when the race was staged at Cheltenham following the abandonment of Newbury.

The first race, the Club 16-24 “Help For Heroes” Ball National Hunt Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, has attracted 16 declared runners and is due off at 12.30pm.


There will be a precautionary inspection at 8.00am tomorrow morning. Frost covers have been placed over the entire course since Sunday.

Cheltenham experienced a heavy frost last night (Tuesday) but the course would have been raceable today. Tonight, the frost is forecast to be less severe. The racecourse remains confident that racing will go ahead but, given the vagaries of the weather, it has been decided that it would be prudent to hold a precautionary inspection at 8.00am tomorrow.

The going on the chase and hurdle course remains good to soft.


Cheltenham Racecourse ushers in the New Year with its traditional fixture on Thursday, January 1, 2009, comprising a fantastic seven-race card that features the £55,000 Grade Three skybet.com Handicap Chase (2.10pm), run over two miles and five furlongs.

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. Last year, the David Pipe-trained Vodka Bleu prevailed, getting the better of Patman Du Charmil by two and a half lengths. The 2003 running was a particularly 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 £35,000 Grade Two “Dipper” Novices’ Chase (1.40pm) is proving to be one of the most informative contests for novices, having been won by top-drawer performers since it was first run at Cheltenham in 2005.

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 also 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 by three quarters of a length from Napolitain, with subsequent Grade One RSA Chase hero Star De Mohaison in third. In 2008, it was the Philip Hobbs-trained Lead On who prevailed, while the first Cheltenham running went to My Will.

The £25,000 Cheltenham Annual Pony Club Raceday Handicap Chase (1.05pm) is run over an extended three and a quarter miles and last year’s winner Irish Raptor, trained by local handler Nigel Twiston-Davies subsequently finished second in the Topham Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree. The 2007 contest went the way of Cornish Rebel, who held The Bajan Bandit by a length and three quarters for champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

The quality of the day is further enhanced with the running of the extended two and a half-mile £25,000 Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle (3.20pm), which was won 12 months ago by the classy Blazing Bailey, who subsequently won at both Aintree and Punchestown as well as finishing fourth in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, while the other three winners have been Flight Leader (2007), The French Furze (2006) and Westender (2005).

Hills Of Aran, trained by Keith Goldsworthy in Wales, saw off Hennessy to collect last season’s renewal of the £25,000 Unicoin Homes Handicap Hurdle, run over three miles and due off at 2.45pm.

The day kicks off with the £15,000 Club 16-24 “Help For Heroes” Ball National Hunt Novices’ Handicap Hurdle over two miles and a furlong, which last season went the way of the Alan King-trained Oh Crick.

The concluding race is the £17,000 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 Lord Generous, trained by Helen Lewis and out of that great Cheltenham performer Lady Rebecca.


1.05pm Cheltenham Annual Pony Club Raceday Handicap Chase (0-145) 3m 2f 110y £25,000
2008 IRISH RAPTOR 9-10-12 Nigel Twiston-Davies Paddy Brennan 8/1 9
2007 CORNISH REBEL 10-11-12 Paul Nicholls Ruby Walsh 11/4 4
2006 JOAACI 6-11-12 Martin Pipe Timmy Murphy 12/1 13
2005 LORD OF ILLUSION 8-10-11 Tom George Mick Fitzgerald 11/4F 11
2003* LORD NOELIE 10-11-12 Bridget Nicholls Tony McCoy 13/2 8
2002* HISTORG 7-10-04 Ferdy Murphy Davy Russell 7/1 10
2001/2002 ABANDONED
2000/2001 ABANDONED
1999* STRONG TEL 9-11-09 Martin Pipe Tony McCoy 13/2 11

1.40pm “Dipper” Novices' Chase (Grade 2) 2m 5f £35,000
2008 LEAD ON 7-11-07 Philip Hobbs Richard Johnson 7/2 5
2007 MY WAY DE SOLZEN 7-11-04 Alan King Robert Thornton 4/9F 5
2006 THE LISTENER 7-11-11 Robert Alner Andrew Thornton 8/11F 7
2005 MY WILL 5-10-12 Paul Nicholls Ruby Walsh 4/1 5
Run at Newcastle prior to 2005.

2.10pm skybet.com Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 5f £55,000
2008 VODKA BLEU 9-10-13 David Pipe Timmy Murphy 7/1 14
2007 TOO FORWARD 11-11-04 Carl Llewellyn Timmy Murphy 4/1 7
2006 FONDMORT 10-11-12 Nicky Henderson Mick Fitzgerald 100/30F 13
2005 LE DUC 6-10-08 Paul Nicholls Ruby Walsh 10/1 15
2004 WHEREAREYOUNOW 7-10-01 Nigel Twiston-Davies Carl Llewellyn 11/2 9
2003 BALLINCLAY KING 9-10-11 Ferdy Murphy Davy Russell 7/2 7
2000 THE OUTBACK WAY 10-11-10 Venetia Williams Norman Williamson 4/1 6
1999 EIRESPRAY 8-10-07 Sue Smith Seamus Durack 11/2 10
1998 PETE THE PARSON 9-10-02 Jim Old Mick Fitzgerald 3/1F 6
1994 SOUTHERN MINSTREL 11-10-06 Peter Cheesbrough Adrian Maguire 9/4 4
1991* NODFORM 7-10-12 Josh Gifford Declan Murphy 15/2 4
1990* NEW HALEN 9-09-12 Paul James Eamon Tierney 7/4 5
1990* PADDYBORO 12-11-13 Josh Gifford Richard Rowe 4/1 6

2.45pm Unicoin Homes Handicap Hurdle 3m £25,000
2008 HILLS OF ARAN 6-10-09 Keith Goldsworthy Tony McCoy 10/1 9
2007 JUST BETH 11-10-09 Joe Fierro Derek Laverty 10/1 10
2006 ATTORNEY GENERAL 7-11-12 Jim Old Jason Maguire 15/2 14
2005 KORELO 7-11-12 Martin Pipe Timmy Murphy 7/1 14
First run 2005

3.20pm Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle 2m 4f 110y £25,000
2008 BLAZING BAILEY 6-11-12 Alan King Robert Thornton 11/2 7
2007 FLIGHT LEADER 7-11-12 Colin Tizzard Richard Johnson 2/1 4
2006 THE FRENCH FURZE 12-11-04 Nicky Richards Brian Harding 12/1 8
2005 WESTENDER 9-11-04 Martin Pipe Timmy Murphy 7/4F 6
First run 2005

* Race was run in December, when this meeting was run over two days

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