Racing: Rembrandt can master enigmatic French rival

The final in-house clues for the Cheltenham Festival are delivered this afternoon at Prestbury Park and a magnifying glass will not have to be part of the racing kit. It seems there will be evidence aplenty among the handicaps, novices' hurdles and, in particular, the Pillar Chase, which has generated the Gold Cup winner in three of its last eight runnings.

The final in-house clues for the Cheltenham Festival are delivered this afternoon at Prestbury Park and a magnifying glass will not have to be part of the racing kit. It seems there will be evidence aplenty among the handicaps, novices' hurdles and, in particular, the Pillar Chase, which has generated the Gold Cup winner in three of its last eight runnings.

It is an intriguing contest, run over just a furlong short of the Blue Riband distance, particularly when you consider the outsider of the six is Rince Ri, the only runner to have won this race before, two years ago.

The talented Jair Du Cochet, on offer at 7-2 this morning, would be a shorter price if he were ridden by any other Frenchman - Inspector Clouseau or Asterix would do - rather than the reviled (in Britain at least) Jacques Ricou.

Much of the lampooning of Ricou is based on his nationality than his riding ability and there will be some today hoping Jair Du Cochet will help him stun the jingoists. Yet Jair Du Cochet has other problems to combat as he is coming off a stinker in the King George VI Chase.

The other young horse in the race is Therealbandit, who embarks on just his third race over jumps. He is exciting and worrying at the same time. You look at his trainer, jockey and experience and the late Gloria Victis comes to mind. However, this is a small field which should help Therealbandit's survival.

Valley Henry will probably get third or fourth, while Truckers Tavern is harder to fathom. His form from last year's Festival looks persuasive, but if you take Best Mate out of that equation it can read like a moderate Gold Cup. In addition, Ferdy Murphy is unsure if the Trucker is quite firing on all cylinders.

That leaves us with another beast stepping into this lofty territory for the first time in Sir Rembrandt (next best 3.05). Robert Alner's runner has form in these parts and, most persuasively of all, he has the most recent form in the book, a bold second under a big weight to Bindaree in the Welsh National. The third that day, Hedgehunter, won the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park on Thursday.

Guillaume Macaire, Jair Du Cochet's trainer, has horses in the Triumph Hurdle warm-up. Dessie Hughes also travels his Guilt from Ireland, while among the domestic hopes are Sunray and Mondul, first and second in the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow last month, and Howle Hill and Lough Derg (2.00), from the more celebrated yards of Alan King and Martin Pipe. The last-named appears to be coming on particularly nicely.

The Cleeve Hurdle does not quite seem the same without Lady Rebecca, yet it could provide solid material for the Stayers' Hurdle. Redemption is on that trail, as is Hardy Eustace, winner of last season's Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle.

"Hardy Eustace is back to his best. He should acquit himself well and he likes the track," Hughes said yesterday of his other traveller across the Irish Sea. "There was nothing wrong with him last time. It was over two miles and it was a bit short for him."

This, though, looks booked for another Stayers' consideration, King's Crystal D'Ainay (2.35), who acts round these pastures and was the winner at the weights against Sh Boom here on New Year's Eve.

The informative handicaps looked to be at the mercy of Ruby Gale (1.30) and KELREV (nap 3.35) an ex-Macaire horse, who has taken some time to translate his talents from France to this country but who now looks ready for a roll.

Cheltenham does not possess a monopoly on weekend excitements as Leopardstown tomorrow hosts the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle, a race which has not been spirited away by the British since Collier Bay's victory in 1996.

Noel Chance's Flame Creek is the lonely invader this time and he will have to avoid the heavy ack-ack sent up by Willie Mullins's Davenport Milenium and Spirit Leader from Jessica Harrington's yard.

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