CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL: Hotel heartbreak for Danoli

Sue Montgomery predicts a triumph for a young Irish trainer in the Champion Hurdle
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The Independent Online
IF DANOLI wins the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, the celebrations will surely call a halt to the rest of the meeting. All Ireland has backed Tom Foley's gelding since his miraculous return from injury and victory in hurdling's crown would provide the expert partygoers from across the water with their most emotional moment since Dawn Run's Gold Cup triumph 10 years ago.

Something in the region of pounds 23m will be wagered at this week's three- day festival in the annual bare-knuckle 20-rounder against the old enemy, and Danoli would provide the bookies with their worst nightmare. "Every time he's run, they've lumped on," Ladbrokes' Mike Dillon said. "I reckon he'll cost our industry pounds 2m if he wins."

Sympathy should be spared, however, for though the layers may take a few body blows, they will win on points in the season's most competitive arena. And the Champion Hurdle decision could go to one of Danoli's compatriots, Hotel Minella. Although the nine-year-old has not won since last April, Charlie Swan blamed himself for his narrow defeat by Collier Bay in the mud at Leopardstown in January. He comes to Cheltenham fresh and with the drying ground now in his favour, and though Alderbrook's speed and Mysilv's toughness will be hard to beat, he can give the young Irish champion trainer, Aidan O'Brien, his first Festival winner.

Arguably the most professional horse in training, Viking Flagship, will be going for a three-timer in Wednesday's two-mile showpiece, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and two recent wins have put him on song after an indifferent start to the season. He will not give up his title without a fight, but faces a formidable three-cornered attack from his old rival Travado and the Irish pair, Sound Man and Strong Platinum. The race will be one to savour, but I stand by Sound Man to shrug off a recent injury scare, though Strong Platinum, who twice beat him fair and square last spring, may bounce back after his latest rather disappointing defeat on unsuitable soft ground.

Gordon Richards has won every big race in the calendar except the Gold Cup, and on Thursday this year's hot favourite, One Man, can crown the trainer's 32-year career by setting that record straight. As well as being an enthusiastic, accurate jumper, the eight-year-old grey has the priceless asset of speed, and though he has not yet excelled over Cheltenham's unique, undulating contours, he looks to be in a different class to his rivals.

The progressive Irish seven-year-old Imperial Call deserves the utmost respect for his trouncing of Master Oats, last year's champion, and Monsieur Le Cure in the soft at Leopardstown last month, and though he has not yet raced beyond three miles there seems no reason to suspect that the extra two furlongs of the Gold Cup will be beyond him. He is relatively inexperienced in this league, however, and the Irish have not had a horse placed in the Gold Cup since Dawn Run won it.

The bold front-running course specialist Dublin Flyer may not get home - he has won only one chase, against moderate opposition three years ago, over the trip - but the pace he can force will help the cause of Rough Quest, who likes to challenge as late as possible. The 10-year-old has surely improved since he ran away with last year's Ritz Club Chase, and looks solid each-way value.

The Irish have a strong hand throughout the three days, and can take a sub-standard Stayers' Hurdle with Derrymoyle, to whom all ground seems to come alike.

As far as the novice chasing championships are concerned, the doubt about Draborgie has thrown the Arkle Trophy wide open, and though another live raider, Double Symphony, gets the 5lb sex allowance, Paddy Burke's seven- year-old King Wah Glory has come to the boil at just the right time. Among the outsiders, there has been a persistent whisper for Northern challenger Ask Tom.

If the market is a guide, there is another banker for the novice staying title on Wednesday, the Sun Alliance Chase, and if Noel Chance's flashy eight-year-old copes with the course and obstacles he will be hard to beat. But the resolute Hill Of Tullow, also undefeated over fences, may be the one to expose any weaknesses.

The handicaps are the usual nightmare to unravel, but look out for Sparky Gayle, who makes the long journey from Lockerbie, in a hot Coral Cup the same afternoon.

Sue Montgomery's selections: Tuesday: 2.15 Kimnicky. 2.50 King Wah Glory (nap). 3.30 Hotel Minella. 4.05 Amtrak Express. 4.40 Turning Trix. 5.15 Runaway Pete. Wednesday: 2.15 Whattabob. 2.50 Sound Man. 3.30 Sparky Gayle (nap). 4.05 Hill Of Tullow. 4.40 Kalona. 5.15 Whispering Steel. 5.50 Whither Or Which. Thursday: 2.15 Paddy's Return. 2.50 Derrymoyle. 3.30 One Man (nap). 4.05 Cool Dawn. 4.40 Thumbs Up. 5.15 Master Boston. 5.50 Nijmegen.

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