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Saturday, March 12, 2011

This year’s £500,000 Grade One totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20pm) will be an enthralling clash of the generations after 15 horses stood their ground following today’s six-day confirmation stage for chasing’s top race, the feature contest on Gold Cup Day at The Festival, Friday, March 18.

Imperial Commander posted an emphatic seven-length verdict over Denman in last year’s totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup and the 10-year-old, who also won the Grade One Ryanair Chase at The Festival in 2009 for his handler Nigel Twiston-Davies, returns to Cheltenham in rude health following a sparkling racecourse gallop at Kempton on February 26 and continuing good work at home. Imperial Commander is the 10/3 favourite with totesport.

No horse over the age of 10 has won the extended three and a quarter mile championship event since What A Myth took the spoils 42 years ago but horses older than this come strongly into the reckoning this season in the shape of 11-year-olds Kauto Star (11/2) and Denman (13/2), who both hail from the Somerset stable of champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls. If Imperial Commander, Denman and Kauto Star all run, it will be the first time since 1958 that three past winners of the Gold Cup have taken each other on.

The leading chaser of modern times, Kauto Star became the first horse to regain the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup when successful in 2009 after an initial victory in 2007 and Clive Smith’s gelding is bidding to add to his incredible tally of 14 Grade One victories, which include four consecutive wins in Kempton’s King George VI Chase.

Denman has also tasted success in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, having galloped his rivals, including Kauto Star (the seven-length second), into the ground in 2008, and the evergreen chaser proved himself a leading contender for more top-level honours with a fine third in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November, when he conceded upwards of 25lb to his rivals.

Nicholls is also likely to be represented by dual Grade One winners What A Friend (40/1), part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and sporting blinkers for the first time, and Neptune Collonges (25/1) as he bids to emulate Arkle’s trainer Tom Dreaper and become the second handler to land the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on five occasions.

Long Run (9/2) announced himself as the young pretender to the throne with a stunning victory in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on January 15 and the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding is aiming to be the first six-year-old to win the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup since Mill House scored in 1963.

The last Irish-trained winner of the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup was War Of Attrition in 2006 and his handler Mouse Morris has China Rock (25/1) this year. Morris reported about the eight-year-old: "China Rock is in great form, touch wood, and the drier the ground the better for him. The going was too soft for him when he was fourth at Leopardstown and he went for home a bit soon so we will forgive him that run.

"He has been fourth on his two previous appearances at Cheltenham, so we know that he acts round the track. He will be two stone better on a faster surface and realistically I am hoping that he can be placed."

The trio of Irish-trained horses going forward is completed by Grade One winners Kempes (11/1) and Pandorama (14/1), from the stables of Willie Mullins and Noel Meade respectively.

Other notable contenders include the Howard Johnson-trained Tidal Bay (20/1) successful in The Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase at The Festival in 2008, course specialist Midnight Chase (14/1), representing Neil Mulholland, and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained pair of Albertas Run (50/1), successful in the Ryanair Chase in 2009, and Welsh National victor Synchronised (50/1).

The potential line-up is completed by the Ian Williams-trained Weird Al (33/1), who has been successful on both his previous appearances at Cheltenham, and Carruthers (66/1), who finished fourth in last year’s contest for trainer Mark Bradstock.

The full totesport odds are:- Imperial Commander 10/3, Long Run 9/2, Kauto Star 11/2, Denman 13/2, Kempes 11/1, Midnight Chase 14/1, Pandorama 14/1, Tidal Bay 20/1, China Rock 25/1, Neptune Collonges 25/1, Weird Al 33/1, What A Friend 40/1, Albertas Run 50/1, Synchronised 50/1 & Carruthers 66/1.

Gold Cup Day starts with the £100,000 Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm) and the 28 six-day confirmations are headed by impressive Ascot winner Grandouet and Irish Grade One heroine Unaccompanied, who represents the leading Flat owner/trainer combination of Moyglare Stud Farm and Dermot Weld.

The leading staying novice hurdlers will also be in action in the £100,000 Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.40pm), which has 47 horses going forward including dual Cheltenham winner Bobs Worth and Back In Focus, who made an eye-catching debut under rules when taking a Grade Two contest at Haydock in February.

Baby Run gave trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and his son Sam an emotional success in the amateur’s Gold Cup, the £35,000 Christie’s Foxhunter Chase (4pm), last year and the 11-year-old is one of 41 confirmations for this year’s race, in which he is set to be partnered by Sam’s younger brother, 16-year-old Willie.

Fiendishly competitive handicap action looks guaranteed with 77 contenders still in the £70,000 Grade Three Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (2.05pm) and 107 entries remaining in the £45,000 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.40pm).

The Festival is brought to a close with the £75,000 Grade Three Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (5.15pm). Nicky Henderson would love a second success in the race named after his late father to add to the victory of Greenhope in 2006 and the master of Seven Barrows has engaged Tanks For That and Anquetta, who feature among the remaining 41 entries.


The going at Cheltenham is currently:

Old Course (in use on Tuesday and Wednesday): Good, Good to Soft in Places (GoingStick reading of 7.8 at noon today)

 Cross Country Course (In use Tuesday- GoingStick reading of 9 at noon today) and New Course (in use on Thursday and Friday GoingStick reading of 8.2 at noon today): Good, Good to Firm in Places

Simon Claisse, Cheltenham’s Clerk of the Course and Director of Racing, said today: "We are currently watering the New Course, with around seven or eight millimetres of water set to be applied.

"The forecast is for a little light rain from tonight into Sunday morning followed by showers next week."



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