Irish favourites face test

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The Independent Online
Danoli and Merry Gale, favourites for the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup respectively, put their credentials on the line at Leopardstown today providing the course survives a 7am inspection. The going is officially described as heavy.

Danoli is an intended runner even though his trainer, Tom Foley, is not happy with the condition of the gelding, who coughed over the weekend.

"He runs but I am not 100 per cent happy with him," Foley said. "If it was the Champion Hurdle he wouldn't run, but I am happy to let him take his chance against this small field. We have had him blood-tested and there is nothing to stop him running.

"I am not worried about the very soft going because he will travel in any ground."

Danoli, 7-2 favourite for the Champion Hurdle with William Hill, will face four rivals, including Dorans Pride who finished second to him in the Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse earlier this month.

Merry Gale will also line up against four opponents in the Ericsson Chase in a bid to maintain his position at the head of the Gold Cup betting.

William Hill's 6-1 favourite for Cheltenham is likely to face Nuaffe, the Tripleprint Gold Cup runner-up who was 15 lengths adrift of Merry Gale when second in last month's Durkan Punchestown Chase, and Flashing Steel, 14-1 for the Gold Cup after an encouraging reappearance at Navan. Nuaffe's trainer, Pat Fahy, is concerned about coughing in his yard and planned to have Nuaffe scoped last night.