Fingal Bay takes Neptune plunge


There is some significant Cheltenham i-dotting and t-crossing due to be carried out later this week but a certain amount of punctuation was put in place yesterday ahead of the four-day, £3.3m Festival that starts four weeks today. Binocular, for instance, one of Nicky Henderson's Champion Hurdle candidates, will miss tomorrow's Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso and challenge for the title he won two years ago without further conditioning in public.

And the Irish mare Voler La Vedette, trained by Colm Murphy, is to take on the rock of Big Buck's in the World Hurdle rather than the hard place of Quevega in the David Nicholson Hurdle. Likewise, she will head straight for the Festival, skipping her proposed warm-up at Navan on Saturday.

The expansion of programme at the Festival can make life difficult for ante-post punters, with an increasing number of options for competitors, particularly in the novice hurdle divisions. But the unbeaten Fingal Bay, at the head of the betting for both the two-mile five furlong Grade One contest and its three-mile equivalent, is now confirmed for the shorter race, the Neptune Investment Management Hurdle. "I'm sure he would go three miles," said his Somerset-based trainer, Philip Hobbs, "but we don't know that for certain."

Hobbs also indicated that last year's Arkle Chase winner Captain Chris would take his chance in the Gold Cup. The eight-year-old has undergone some intensive education with jumping guru Yogi Breisner since his disappointing display in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham last month, when he was pulled up early after some alarmingly right-handed leaps. But another of last season's top novices, the Irish-trained RSA Chase winner Bostons Angel, has been ruled out of the Gold Cup after his dull display at Leopardstown on Sunday.

The loss to frost and snow of Newbury's informative card of Festival trials three days ago has, happily, meant only a brief hiatus for those looking for clues. The highlights have been rearranged for Friday, when entry to the track will cost nothing.

The stars on view are due to include Long Run, who will face a maximum of seven rivals in the Denman Chase, his final prep before his Gold Cup defence. The seven-year-old has been beaten by Kauto Star in both runs this season and he and his connections need the confidence booster of a victory. His rivals are set to include two of Kauto Star's stablemates, last year's Gold Cup fourth What A Friend and Tidal Bay.

The betting frenzy ahead of the John Smith's Grand National starts in earnest today, with the publication of the weights for the Aintree marathon. But there were a few ripples yesterday, with David Pipe-trained Junior, due to start his road to Aintree at Haydock on Saturday, backed to clear favouritism, as short as 10-1 in some lists.

The Turf Account

Chris McGrath's nap

Pentiffic (3.25 Ayr)

Battling third to a Festival-bound handicap snip at Cheltenham last time and he, too, may be well-treated as he ventures into open company.


Next best

Three Bards (2.10 Southwell)

Front-runner caught close home in his two progressive efforts over 10 furlongs last month. Drops back in trip on today's slower track.


One to watch

If Bold Sir Brian (Lucinda Russell), a wide-margin winner at Musselburgh on Saturday, makes the long journey from Scotland to Cheltenham next month, the hint should be taken.


Where the money's going

The gamble on Simonsig for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle continued yesterday, now 8-1 favourite for the Festival opener in Ladbrokes' lists.

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