King's mind made up by Medermit

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The Independent Online

Though the expansion of the Cheltenham Festival from three days to four and from its original 18 races to 27 has broadened opportunities for competitors and punters alike, it has also brought dilemmas for those who like to bet ante-post.

Such a plethora of prizes inevitably means overlapping options for horses, and thus multiple entries, but at least one target was positively identified yesterday when Alan King (pictured) announced that Medermit would challenge for next month's two-mile novices' crown, the Irish Independent Arkle Chase, rather than the meeting's newest addition, the two-and-a-half mile Jewson Chase.

The seven-year-old won a Grade One contest over the longer distance at Sandown on Saturday and, though he responded well when pressed through the closing stages by the half-length runner-up Captain Chris, he was going more comfortably half a mile out than at the finish. After sleeping on the choice, his trainer has chosen to keep the grey at the highest level next month but drop him in trip.

"Choc [Thornton, his stable jockey] and I had a long chat," said King, "and we feel the way he travelled and jumped on Saturday, he deserves a shot at the big one. Short or long, he was brilliant at his fences, very professional, and did everything we could have asked in what looked a proper race."

Medermit is now 6-1 third favourite, behind Finan's Rainbow and Ghizao, for the Arkle Chase, which King won with the subsequent senior champion Voy Por Ustedes in 2006 and a year later with My Way De Solzen.

The enforced abandonment of yesterday's high-profile card at Leopardstown with waterlogging will not have eased King's Irish colleagues' preparations for the Festival but, with typical swift initiative, the authorities in those parts have rearranged the coming weekend's schedule to enable the meeting, with its four Grade One races, to be run on Saturday.

The most intriguing British raider for the main event, the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, will be missing, though. The Paul Nicholls-trained Pride Of Dulcote will now stay on home soil for his prep for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Ascot Chase, the following weekend. Nicholls has used the Grade One two-and-three-quarter-miler as part of a Cheltenham build-up in the past, notably with Kauto Star three years ago.

One of the many thwarted by the weather this season, last year's Scottish National winner Merigo, turns out at Ayr this afternoon in a minor hurdles event. The 10-year-old has Haydock's Grand National trial on Saturday week on his schedule, followed by a tilt at the real thing in April.

"We've had a lot of hard frosts and have been struggling," said his trainer, the Lockerbie-based Andrew Parker, "and we're just glad to be able to get some race sharpness into him."