Now Victis is handed an option in Cathcart

The puzzle for punters of whether to step in now to back Gloria Victis for one of his Cheltenham assignments was further complicated yesterday when the gelding was among 46 entries for the Cathcart Cup on the final day of the Festival.

The puzzle for punters of whether to step in now to back Gloria Victis for one of his Cheltenham assignments was further complicated yesterday when the gelding was among 46 entries for the Cathcart Cup on the final day of the Festival.

The 6-1 chance for the Gold Cup, winner of the Racing Post Chase at Kempton last month, can win a £50,000 bonus if taking the Cathcart, the Gold Cup or the National Hunt Handicap Chase at the Festival. However, he is also entered for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, for which he is quoted at evens by William Hill.

If, as seems likely, Gloria Victis misses the Royal & SunAlliance, then the current quotes of 7-1 and 8-1 against Ireland's leading staying novice chasers, Native Upmanship and Alexander Banquet, would look attractive. Pipe's Deano's Beeno is also an 8-1 chance.

Gloria Victis is not quoted by sponsors William Hill for the National Hunt Handicap Chase, but their market leader, Marlborough, second to Pipe's horse at Kempton, was well supported yesterday and is now 13-2 favourite, from 8-1. Niki Dee was also cut, from 14-1 to 10-1, for the same race.

Support for Peter Beaumont's charge, who is perceived to be better on good going, may have been inspired by the latest forecast for Prestbury Park, where fine weather has started to dry out the ground.

"The forecast is for very mild weather up to the weekend, no significant rain is forecast and I'm leaving the ground description as good to soft, soft in places," Philip Arkwright, the clerk of the course, said.

Conscious of the criticism that will ensue if there are a host of fatalities at next week's meeting, where the ultra-competitiveness of every race places a heavy burden on the thoroughbred horses, the Cheltenham executive will have been relieved to have received the seal of approval of the Jockey Club's senior inspector of courses, Richard Linley.

"He went round, measured every fence, looked at every hurdle and checked all the rail alignment," Arkwright said. "There was the odd comment on hurdles and there was one bit of rail he thought we could line up a bit better, but overall he was entirely happy."

Coral have tried to liven up betting on the Champion Hurdle by offering prices on Istabraq's winning distance. Aidan O'Brien's charge is 3-1 to win the race by less than three lengths, 11-4 to win by three to six lengths and just 5-2 to win by more than six lengths.

"Ante-post betting on the three feature races has been killed by the presence of short-priced favourites," Simon Clare, Coral's spokesman, said. "The man in the street is not going to back Istabraq at 2-7 but he is not going to back against him."

The firm, who are offering a similar "distance special" for Flagship Uberalles and See More Business, also made a dramatic cut in the odds against Rathbawn Prince for the Arkle Trophy. Quoted at an over-generous 80-1 yesterday morning, the firm have taken a scythe to the price of the Dessie Hughes-trained gelding and now quote 25-1.

Josh Gifford will have just two runners at the Festival after ruling yesterday's Fontwell winner Mr Markham out of the meeting. "If he'd trotted up we might have thought about the Cathcart," Gifford said. "His heart's in the right place and you don't want to break it."

Gifford's Festival pair are Mr Percy in the Champion Hurdle and Skycab in the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase on the Wednesday. "It's sad, but there's no point going just for the sake of it," said Gifford, who believes that his Champion Hurdle outsider is good enough to pick up prize-money. "I bet you Mr Percy is in the first four," he declared.

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