Inside track: Five things to look forward to this weekend

A host of mouth-watering racing in store in Ireland and the UK

Friday, December 13, 2019

Gordon Elliott’s Andy Dufresne is looking to stay unbeaten in the Navan Novice Hurdle on Sunday

While Christmas looms and the weather gets colder, the racing season continues to heat up and this weekend provides another feast of scintillating action, writes Peter White.

With Irish involvement at home and in the UK, here are a few things to keep your eye on.

Champagne all round?

JP McManus-owned Champagne Platinum may be making his chasing debut at Cheltenham but is somewhat fancied to challenge high-flyer Mister Fisher for top spot in the Ryman Novices' Chase.

It may be a tall order to outrun such a high-quality operator – with both horses trained by Nicky Henderson – but jockey Barry Geraghty will be confident of finishing in the mix on a gelding rated very highly by the Seven Barrow team.

If he can find a rhythm in the second race of the day, expect Champagne Platinum to conquer the tricky Cheltenham fences as he looks to capitalise on some promising recent form.

Gunning for Gold Cup glory

The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup is the big betting race of the weekend, and a string of Irish names will be hoping the fact there has only been one winning favourite since 1997 stands them in good stead.

Champion trainer Willie Mullins has Robin Des Foret in the field and will be hoping to get one over Paul Nicholls, who has won the Cheltenham contest five times in the last 10 years and has the much-fancied Secret Investor and Brelan D’As lining up.

Elsewhere, Benatar has been off for 11 months since a disappointing run at Ascot, but at only seven years old, could still find form and should be suited to the end-to-end gallop on Saturday.

Good Man Pat is also part of the field, and despite a below-par run in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase in March, is much better than his running that day suggested.

Pentland continuing his climb

In the day’s penultimate race at Cheltenham, dual Grade 1 winner Pentland Hills will face eight rivals as he bids to cement his Champion Hurdle credentials in the Unibet International Hurdle.

The Nicky Henderson-trained four-year-old – who showcased heroics in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, and also struck at Aintree – will be hoping to continue his unbeaten record over hurdles.

James Bowen jockeys stablemate Call Me Lord while Tolworth Hurdle winner Elixir De Nutz returns to action under Harry Cobden.

Andy Dufresne looks to stay unbeaten

Back in Ireland, Gordon Elliott’s Andy Dufresne will line up against just three rivals as he puts his 100 per cent record on the line in the Navan Novice Hurdle on Sunday.

Since impressing in a successful debut at Down Royal in January, the JP McManus-owned five-year-old made a perfect start to his hurdling career over this course and distance last month.

Now, he will be hoping to follow that up at Grade Two level, against recent Fairyhouse scorer Conflated – also trained by Elliott – Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition and Noel Meade’s Sixshooter.

The contest - which used to be a Grade One - has previously been won by a host of stars, such as Boston Bob (2011) and Pont Alexandre (2012), and Elliott will be keen to kick-start a promising future here.

Clash of the trainers

Also at Navan, Elliott battles great rival Willie Mullins for top spot in the €50,000 Tara Handicap Hurdle, with the 41-year-old responsible for four of the 16 runners.

Elliott lines up Cracking Smart, Mengli Khan, Count Simon and Present In Court in the field as he looks to get his hands on the main prize, while Mullins has Dolciano Dici and Sayo in the mix.

Joseph O'Brien's Top Moon, the Denis Hogan-trained Moskovite and Keith Clarke's pair of Dom Dolo and Barwell also feature.

In the opening Irish Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle, the Mullins-trained Blackbow will likely be favourite to bounce back from a disappointing hurdling debut at Naas last month.

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