Ut De Sivola tests Triumph claims

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The Independent Online

Having hitherto been so weirdly indulged, the jumps schedule was finally menaced by frost overnight.

Most tracks remained optimistic, though it must be admitted that a lot of trainers, asked to sacrifice a single weekend this winter, would probably have chosen this one.

Weather permitting, however, it should be possible to spot one or two Festival candidates – most obviously, perhaps, Ut De Sivola, who cruised clear in a maiden hurdle at Clonmel last month. That was the French import's first start for Willie Mullins, who steps him up in grade at Punchestown this afternoon. Already among the favourites for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, Ut De Sivola should be obliged to give an instructive performance against one or two with much more experience.

Philip Hobbs has found another congenial spot for Menorah to continue his education over fences, taken on for the second time running by just two rivals at Kempton today. Menorah lost concentration when clear at the last at Taunton last month, and will clearly have to be more focused once meeting the big guns in what looks a vintage crop of novices over two miles. Not even the pair he meets today should be treated as a pushover.

Perhaps the race with most at stake, however, is the valuable novice hurdle at Warwick, where some ambitious smaller stables pitch precious young prospects together in the hope of identifying one to take on the likes of Hobbs, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls at the Festival. Emma Lavelle, in particular, must be hoping that Highland Lodge can sustain the momentum of a season that threatens to elevate her stable to the next echelon.