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Letheby & Christopher Chase the Ideal Trial for State Of Play

Vale of Glamorgan trainer Evan Williams is aiming his totesport Gold Cup hope State Of Play at the £100,000 Grade Two Letheby & Christopher Chase (2.40pm) on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday, January 26.

State Of Play

State Of Play

The prestigious race, run over an extended three miles and a furlong, is a traditional stepping-stone to the totesport Gold Cup and has attracted 13 top-class entries.

The Welsh handler revealed this morning: “State Of Play is entered in the Letheby & Christopher Chase and we are planning to run him. He has come out of the Lexus Chase really well and I am happy with him.

“We looked around at our options and the choice was either carrying a big weight in a handicap or going to Cheltenham and seeing if we can get some of that good prize money that is on offer.”

State Of Play, the 2006 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup winner, ran a creditable race in the Grade One Lexus Chase at Punchestown on December 28, when fifth to Denman. The eight-year-old was in contention until outpaced in the closing stages of the slowly run three-mile contest.

Williams’ charge had previously finished a game runner-up to Ollie Magern in the Grade Two bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November, conceding six pounds to the winner. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ollie Magern is likely to reoppose in the Letheby & Christopher Chase.

Williams reported: “The great thing about State Of Play is that he always gives 100 per cent, but I think to be seen at his best he needs a very strongly run race and he didn’t get that in Ireland last time.

“If you look at the Charlie Hall Chase, it was a fiercely run race and he ran incredibly well. The Hennessy too is always run at a ferocious pace and I think it does help him as it finds the cracks in other horses. He is such a genuine horse that he always does his best work at the end.

“He is so adaptable in terms of the going. He will run on good to firm and he can go on quite soft ground”

State Of Play was sixth in the 2007 totesport Gold Cup, beaten just under 12 lengths by the brilliant Kauto Star, and Williams is hoping for another good effort in jumping’s blue riband.

He said: “State Of Play ran an exceptionally good race at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup last year. The more we look at it, when you consider how good the horses who finished in front of him are, he wasn’t beaten far and it was an exemplary effort.

“The more you analyse it and look at how the race developed it is brilliant to see how good a race he ran. We will see how we get on in the Letheby & Christopher Chase and then perhaps go straight for the totesport Gold Cup again.

“Paul (Moloney) and Christian (Williams) ride the horses so all being well Paul will ride State Of Play on Saturday.”

The fantastic entry for the Letheby & Christopher Chase also includes last year’s victor and totesport Gold Cup runner-up Exotic Dancer from the Jonjo O’Neill yard, the Paul Nicholls-trained Grade One Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup winner Neptune Collonges and Grade Three Racing Post Chase winner Simon, from the John Spearing yard.

Trainer David Pipe has engaged King George VI Chase runner-up and Cheltenham specialist Our Vic as well as the top-class but lightly-raced Celestial Gold, winner of the 2004 Paddy Power Gold Cup, and the smart Madison Du Berlais.

The remaining entries are Billyvoddan, Knowhere, Faasel and the Francois Doumen-trained pair of Kelami and L’Ami.

The Letheby & Christopher Chase is an excellent pointer to the totesport Gold Cup with past winners including See More Business. The Paul Nicholls-trained star landed the spoils in 1998 and was third to Cyfor Malta in 1999, the year of his totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph. He scored a second victory in the race in 2001.

The Noel Chance-trained Looks Like Trouble in 2000 and the Kim Bailey-trained Master Oats in 1995 both triumphed in the Letheby & Christopher Chase en route to totesport Gold Cup glory the same year.

Festival Trials Day is the final chance to see racing at Cheltenham prior to The Festival. The fantastic seven-race card features no less than four Grade Two contests as well as the hugely competitive £55,000 Grade Three Trophy Chase (2.05pm) over two miles, five furlongs, which has attracted 24 classy entries.

The 2007 Festival Trials Day produced plenty of clues to subsequent Festival glory with no less than five horses (Inglis Drever, Katchit, Massini’s Maguire, Wichita Lineman and Idole First) who competed that day going on to triumph at the main event.

Blazing Bailey won last year’s renewal of the £60,000 Grade Two Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle (3.50pm). The Alan King-trained gelding held subsequent Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner Inglis Drever in the three-mile contest and both horses are among a tremendous 18-strong entry.

J P McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry today confirmed that Ladbrokes World Hurdle hopeful Wichita Lineman is on target for a crack at the Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding won the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle on this card 12 months ago before going on to land the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival in March.

This season, the seven-year-old finished fourth to Hardy Eustace on his seasonal debut at Ascot in November before coming the eight-length second at Prestbury Park to Blazing Bailey in the Steel Plate & Sections Hurdle on New Year’s Day.

Berry revealed today: “The plan is to go to Cheltenham on Saturday and Wichita Lineman in good form ahead of the race.

“Jonjo is very pleased with him at home. He came out of his run on New Year’s Day well and the probable soft ground shouldn’t inconvenience him.

“We’ll get Saturday out of the way first, but I’m sure that he’ll go straight to The Festival for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.”

Others among the entries for Saturday’s race include Irish pair Kazal and Sonnyanjoe, plus Chief Dan George and Lough Derg, successful on his last two outings at Ascot in Grade One and Grade Two company. Francois Doumen has entered Millenium Royal, while Emma Lavelle has this race as an option for Labelthou, successful in a Grade Two contest at Ascot on Saturday.

The £30,000 Grade Two Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle (3.15pm) is a fantastic pointer to the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival and the Alan King-trained Katchit won both races in 2007.

The two mile, one furlong race has attracted 16 entries including the King-trained Franchoek who is set to seek revenge on the Gordon Elliott-trained Harper Valley, the latter having proved a length an a half too good in the Best Odds Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on December 15.

The £30,000 Grade Two Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle (1.00pm) was won last year by Wichita Lineman who subsequently triumphed in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival. The third that day, Massini’s Maguire, won the Grade One Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle at the 2007 Festival.

This year’s contest has attracted 26 entries including the Nicky Henderson-trained Aigle D’Or, a classy Flat performer in France who easily won his sole start over hurdles at Lingfield on January 4.

The day also features the £25,000 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (1.30pm) over two miles, five furlongs and the £25,000 Brightwells Cheltenham Bloodstock Auctions Handicap Hurdle (4.25pm) over two miles and a furlong.


Cheltenham Racecourse Clerk of the Course, Simon Claisse, revealed this morning: “The going on the chase and hurdles courses is currently soft, with a Turftrax going stick reading of 6.6. The outlook is settled with 10-15mm of rain expected up to Friday. The forecast suggests that Friday and Saturday will be dry days.

“I’m delighted with the strength of the entries and we have a great race in prospect with the Letheby & Christopher Chase.

“Both the Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle and the Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle have attracted excellent entries and will be thrilling contests. All in all it will be a great day’s racing.”

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