Cheltenham Festival hopes to stake late claim

Cheltenham Festival hopes to stake late claim

Kempton Park stages what are traditionally considered the last recognised Cheltenham Festival trials on Saturday – although last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Lil Rockerfeller goes in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell Park on Sunday – and racegoers should be in for the added bonus of seeing Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur d’Air and Gold Cup favourite Might Bite gallop after racing.

The reigning Champion Hurdler will not work if trainer Nicky Henderson deems the ground to have dried out too much, but he may have to weigh that against the forecast of cold weather through next week, which might limit the options of what he can do at home.

Kempton was perfectly raceable under the covers on Friday, according to clerk of the course Barney Clifford, who said: “I’m glad we covered the track as it is forecast to be minus five overnight.”

My idea of the winner of the three-mile Betdaq Handicap Chase (3.35), Acting Lass – a gelding despite his somewhat ambiguous name – has no entries for the Festival with connections having deliberately decided not to go there. If Saturday goes well they will look at Fairyhouse or Aintree.

Harry Fry, his trainer, won the race with the novice Opening Batsman five years ago so will know what sort of horse he needs. Acting Lass has won all three starts over fences, although it has to be said most of those were over 2½ miles.

“He’s on an upward curve. We always thought he would get three miles and with the ground drying out it is the perfect time to try it,” said Fry, who also announced that If The Cap Fits, third favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, will miss the Festival after pulling a muscle.

Redicean just needs to tidy up his jumping in the Betdaq Adonis Hurdle (2.25), but a third convincing win over hurdles would probably see the Alan King-trained four-year-old regarded as Apple’s Shakira’s most serious rival in the Triumph Hurdle. He certainly has a nice turn of foot at the end of a race, a good asset if he can get his jumping a little slicker.

Colin Tizzard’s Shoal Bay can book his ticket to Cheltenham by winning the Sky Bet Dovecote Hurdle (3.00), a race in which the Duchess of Cornwall’s homebred Carntop makes his hurdling debut for in-form trainer Jamie Snowden.

Shoal Bay was not beaten too far into fourth by some decent horses while carrying a penalty at Cheltenham in December. It was at a time when Tizzard’s horses were not firing, but they are in good form now.

I am not sure Ruby Walsh, the most successful Cheltenham Festival jockey of all time, ever put a precise date on his return from the broken leg he sustained in November but the long and the short of it is that, although close to being ready, it will not be this weekend. 

He is riding out again and, one imagines, he will want to get back in action sooner rather than later. Clonmel on Thursday is the next possible opportunity.

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