Twiston-Davies homes in on Pigeon

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The Independent Online

When the hordes descend on Prestbury Park next week from every corner of Britain, Ireland and beyond it will be easy to forget that for some this is a home fixture. Nigel Twiston-Davies's Grange Hill Farm at Naunton is no more than 15 miles from the racecourse gates at Cheltenham and the trainer has his eye on taking the few extra yards to the winner's enclosure at least a couple of times during the four-day feast.

Twiston-Davies, with 70 winners on the board, is enjoying his best season and believes he is taking his strongest team to the meeting. Unlike previous seasons, when the yard has had a golden autumn and a late spring flourish, this campaign has been marked by a new-found consistency to the stable's results.

The most recent of the trainer's seven Festival winners was Fundamentalist in 2004 and, while the path has not been a smooth one for a horse that was the most promising novice chaser of his generation, he has a chance to redeem himself in Tuesday's William Hill Handicap Chase.

"He's jumping well again and he seems back to his old self," Twiston-Davies said. "When he has conditions right he hasn't been really pushed. If it's possible for a 10-year-old, I think there is still some improvement in him."

Before that, the trainer believes he can get off to a flyer in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle. "Pigeon Island has got a superb chance. We won it with another grey in Arctic Kinsman [1994] and this one has a similar profile. I'd be very disappointed if he's not in the first three.

"Mahogany Blaze is second-favourite for the Arkle and I'm expecting a big run. Knowhere is the best outsider in the Gold Cup. Strange things happen in the Gold Cup. Often an outsider gets second or third.

"We'll have about 20 runners and altough my best chances would be Pigeon Island and Mahogany Blaze, Fundamentalist has a very good chance. Razor Royale will also run very well in the Ballymore Properties [Hurdle]. He made a mistake at the wrong time in one race and got stuck in the mud the time after. But he's had a break and he's come back looking really good."

Everyone who saw the conditional jockey Wayne Burton take a horrific fall at Exeter yesterday will be hoping that he too will be back soon. The 24-year-old was taken by air ambulance to hospital with back and head injuries after Veverka crashed out at the first flight in a handicap hurdle. Burton was knocked unconscious for 25 minutes.

"His head injuries are not too serious," Jimmy Fox, the trainer of Veverka, reported last night, "but he has heavy bruising on his back and we are not likely to know anything for around 48 hours."

* Kieren Fallon has failed in his final appeal against the 18-month ban issued by France Galop in January for a positive drugs test.

Kauto Star or Denman? The professionals give their verdicts on the race of the season

The Cheltenham Gold Cup encounter between the steeplechasing giants Kauto Star and Denman has dominated the turf all season. Today, the Timeform and Channel 4 form expert Jim McGrath gives his view.

"Definitely Kauto Star for me. His record speaks for itself; all his performances this season suggest he is as good, if not better than ever. You see very few horses with the range of distance at the level of ability that this horse has. With a clear round I think his only danger might be really heavy ground, on which his stamina may be suspect, although we don't know that for sure. Denman's record is pretty flawless but although he is clearly a very good horse I don't think he'll have the toe to cope with Kauto Star. Denman is good enough to win an average Gold Cup but this one is better than average, by some way."

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