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Norton trainer closing in on Cheltenham Festival winner
Brian Ellison’s long-held ambition to saddle a winner at the Cheltenham Festival could well be fulfilled this week.
The Norton trainer, no stranger to big-race success under both codes, has sent some useful horses to Gloucestershire this week, including Totalize, who has every chance of obliging for Ellison in this afternoon’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
The mount of stable jockey Danny Cook, Totalize has won two of his three races this term, including a decent event at Kelso last month when he came from well off the pace to win in tidy style.
A horse who is most effective when he is settled in a truly run race, Totalize should have today’s event run to suit. He may need to produce a career-best performance to win, but that may not be beyond this progressive four-year-old.
The nap vote is awarded to Pont Alexandre in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
Trained by Willie Mullins in Ireland, the strapping gelding has been most impressive this season and is held in the highest regard by Mullins and Ruby Walsh, who speaks of him in glowing terms.
This race has attracted some useful horses, but Pont Alexandre has looked the real deal so far and he can cement his reputation by landing this Grade 1 contest.
Sprinter Sacre is the one horse most enthusiasts will want to see on this afternoon’s seven-race card. Admittedly, he is no betting proposition – he is a long odds-on favourite – but he is the most fantastic looking horse and his form over fences is unblemished.
The Nicky Henderson-trained star is seven from seven over the major obstacles, a haul which includes last season’s Arkle Trophy.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is now the target for Sprinter Sacre, who is creating the same sort of impression and reputation as Frankel did on the Flat. It will be a major shock if he is beaten.
The RSA Chase promises to be a crackerjack and this could be another for Henderson, courtesy of Hadrian’s Approach, who made Unioniste pull out all the stops at Newbury last time out in a modestly-run race, which did not suit him. He is open to further improvement, and will need it.
There are more tips flying around for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper than you can shake a stick at and they include Tony Martin’s Blackmail, who is supposedly well fancied.
My vote, however, goes to Tony McCoy’s mount, Regal Encore, who has not come off a tight rein in both his wins, one last season and the other at Chepstow in the autumn.
The opening John Oaksey National Hunt Chase can be another for Mullins with Back In Focus, beaten only once in four starts this season and a horse with all the right credentials to land this four-miler.
The Coral Cup is a wide-open race, but Un Beau Matin looks to be a horse on the upgrade.
1.30 Back In Focus, 2.05 Pont Alexandre (NAP), 2.40 Hadrian’s Approach, 3.20 Sprinter Sacre, 4.00 Un Beau Matin, 4.40 Totalize, 5.15 Regal Encore.
Today’s other meetings: Huntingdon, Kempton and Southwell.
5.45 Riskit Fora Biskit, 6.15 Bentley, 6.45 Shockingdancer, 7.15 Scottish Star, 7.45 Al Khan, 8.15 Rightcar, 8.45 Haadeeth.
Tomorrow’s other meetings: Cheltenham, Hexham and Towcester.