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Championship Contests at The Festival Take Shape
11/02/09

The picture for the five championship Grade One events at The Festival becomes a little clearer today with the publication of the latest acceptors following the first scratchings deadline.

Madison Du Berlais
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Madison Du Berlais

A total of 28 horses remain in the £475,000 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, headed by the two previous winners of chasing’s Blue Riband, Kauto Star and Denman, both trained by Paul Nicholls. Following Denman’s defeat by Madison Du Berlais at Kempton on February 7, Timeform currently just give the edge to the 2007 hero Kauto Star with a rating of 182, with Denman on 180 and a question mark against that figure following his laboured second on his seasonal reappearance. Timeform then have Our Vic, last season’s Ryanair Chase victor, on 170 along with the 2008 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup third Neptune Collonges and Exotic Dancer, runner-up behind Kauto Star two years ago. Madison Du Berlais is on 168. There were no surprise withdrawals for the feature contest on Friday, March 13.

Meanwhile, all the main contenders go forward for the £320,000 Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday, March 11. Heading the 20 acceptors is last year’s imperious victor Master Minded, who has a rating of 179 with Timeform – 9lb superior to his closest pursuer Voy Por Ustedes, the 2007 scorer. Voy Por Ustedes has the £220,000 Ryanair Chase as his most likely target and is the joint-highest rated horse in the two mile, five furlong contest with Timeform along with last year’s scorer Our Vic and Exotic Dancer.

Run on Thursday, March 12, the Ryanair Chase has 35 contenders going forward and is also the likely Festival target for last season’s The Irish Independent Arkle Trophy Chase victor Tidal Bay, who has a Timeform rating of 168.

Timeform think that ante-post favourite Binocular is the one to beat in the £370,000 Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle and have given the Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old a rating of 169p – 7lb clear of the opposition, led by last season’s runner-up Osana on 162. Once again, all of the main contenders go forward with 29 entries remaining after the first scratching deadline.

Just 1lb splits the Timeform ratings for the top two horses in the £260,000 Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle, with Grade One Long Walk Hurdle winner Punchestowns on 167 and last year’s runner-up Kasbah Bliss, trained in France by Francois Doumen, on 166. There are 24 horses still engaged in the three-mile event, run on Thursday, March 12.

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