Racing: Monkerhostin tops the bill for Cheltenham rehearsal

Of the four senior titles at this year's Cheltenham Festival, two are up for grabs. With this season's attrition rate among the élite in mind, it is probably advisable to touch whole forests on behalf of Jessica Harrington and Dessie Hughes while stating that their respective charges Moscow Flyer, the two-mile chasing king, and Hardy Eustace, the two-mile hurdling champion, are still standing. But with Kicking King and Inglis Drever on the sidelines, there will be new names on both the Gold Cup and World Hurdle rolls of honour.

And on Saturday at Prestbury Park there will be crucial eliminators on the road to filling the voids. All bar two of yesterday's entries for the Cotswold Chase (a name splendidly revived for continuity's sake in an era of ever-changing sponsorship; it was what the Arkle Trophy was known as before 1969) and the Cleeve Hurdle are engaged in the big ones.

With Kicking King out, logic might dictate to look to the horse who finished closest to him in his last run. That was Monkerhostin, who was just a neck adrift in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, the great Irish gelding's narrowest-ever margin of victory.

Monkerhostin was among the outsiders that day at 22-1; with Kingscliff on the drift he is now Gold Cup second favourite behind Beef Or Salmon. It may be a reflection on the perceived quality of this year's championship that the best of the home side in the betting lists is a horse whose last two victories have been off light weights in handicaps, but Saturday will be his opportunity to show that the Sandown performance was no flash in the pan.

The upwardly-mobile French-bred nine-year-old has won 10 of his 40 outings over obstacles and is as adept at crossing a fence as a hurdle. Four of his successes have come in chases, his sole métier this term, including a defeat of two-mile cracks Kauto Star and Ashley Brook in the ill-starred contest at Exeter in which Best Mate died.

The King George was Monkerhostin's second try in Grade One company and his first over as far as three miles over fences. Two years ago, he won the Rendlesham Hurdle over the trip at Kempton. "He appeared to see it out well at Sandown, assuming the others ran their races," Philip Hobbs, his trainer, said cautiously. "But whether Kicking King did or not, you'd say compared with the others we were definitely staying on.

"The Gold Cup is another two furlongs, but he's won at three miles over hurdles, and it's probably more difficult to stay over hurdles than fences. It's all a bit faster and you don't get so much of a breather in the air."

Saturday's Grade Two race, under the Letheby & Christopher banner, is over a furlong short of the Gold Cup trip and has in the past spotlighted the prospects of Master Oats, Looks Like Trouble and See More Business. In Monkerhostin's favour is his record at Cheltenham; in seven runs there he has won twice, been placed four times and never shirked a battle up the hill.

"He's been a star for us," added Hobbs, "and he's been in very good order since Sandown, physically and mentally, and seems on the upgrade. But whether he runs on Saturday will depend on how he is this week, and what the ground is. If he doesn't run then, the Aon Chase at Newbury next month is an alternative. But to be honest I wouldn't mind if he didn't have another run before the Gold Cup. He's won first time out for the past three seasons and it can be argued that he is better coming to a race fresh."

Monkerhostin tends to run better when the s-word does not appear in the going description. It is currently good to soft at Cheltenham. By contrast his stablemate One Knight, who has recovered from his fall at the last in the Welsh National last month, revels in easy ground, but he may bypass Saturday's test for a different reason. "I'd be concerned about his handicap mark," said Hobbs, always realistic. "He could run well against very good horses without winning, and for the sake of showing he isn't good enough to run in a Gold Cup, we could mess up his chance to win a big handicap."

Celestial Gold, unraced since his seventh place in last year's Gold Cup, heads Martin Pipe's team of five for the Cotswold, the others being Our Vic, Therealbandit, Comply Or Die and Joaaci. But one notable absentee from yesterday's entries was Iris's Gift, who will now head to either Lingfield or Haydock next month for his Cheltenham prep.

In the Cleeve Hurdle, Inglis Drever's Howard Johnston stablemate No Refuge, vying for favouritism for the Festival marathon title with Baracouda, is set to pull on the supersub jersey, in the face of stern opposition from another French crack, Ambobo, the Irish mare Asian Maze and recent Newbury winner My Way De Solzen.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Bay Island

(Leicester 2.50)

NB: D J Flippance

(Sedgefield 3.10)

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone