Cheltenham Festival 2009 

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Weatherbys Champion Bumper & David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle Well Supported 26/02/09

Entries are revealed today for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, both of which promise to be cracking contests.

Gaspara is entered in the
David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle

Always one of the most anticipated races at The Festival, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper has attracted 51 entries this year, with no less than 26 of these trained in Ireland. Willie Mullins is always the man to watch in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, having won six of the last dozen renewals including with Cousin Vinny who prevailed in the hands of the trainer’s son Patrick last year. This time around Mullins supplies an amazing 13 entries, including Quinola Des Obeaux and Sicilian Secret who are both prominent in the ante-post market. The other horse at the head of the betting for the Grade One event is Dungiub, trained in Ireland by Philip Fenton.

Only three horses trained in Britain have lifted the Weatherbys Champion Bumper since its inauguration in 1992, most recently in 2003. However, one horse trying to buck that trend is Vino Griego, trained by Gary Moore, who was an impressive six-length scorer at Ascot on St Valentine’s Day.

Moore commented: “We have entered Vino Griego in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and he’s a definite runner in the race at the moment. I was delighted with his victory at Ascot and he seems to have come out of the race in good form.

“We will hopefully give him a run at The Festival and then take him over hurdles next season. He won on heavy ground last time out but we wouldn’t mind better ground – as long as it’s not too fast.

“I know English trainers have got a poor record in the race but we’ve got to win it sometime and I think we are going into the race with a fighting chance.”

Now in its second year, the Grade Two David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle has attracted 33 entries – two more than in 2008 – including eight from Ireland.

Heading the possible field is last year’s heroine Whiteoak, who made such a promising return to action at Wincanton on February 14.

Newmarket handler Lucy Wadham has yet to train a Festival winner but has high hopes for her stable star United, who is swerving the Ladbrokes World Hurdle to contest the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle. The eight-year-old, who finished fourth to Inglis Drever in the 2008 Ladbrokes World Hurdle, has won her last two outings, most recently in a Grade Two contest at Ascot on January 17 when she was successful by five lengths from Sweetheart.

Wadham said today: “United is absolutely on target for the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle. She worked on Wednesday morning and she’s in good nick at the moment. She came out of her Ascot race really well and we’ve ste`pped up her work to ensure that’s she is in top shape for The Festival.

“I think that two and a half miles is the optimum trip for her and we won’t mind if she has to do the donkey work because she’s done it before. I think we will beat Whiteoak at Cheltenham – we are both rated 150 and we were beating Refinement out of sight over two and a half miles two seasons ago and the tables were only turned when we stepped up to three miles on good ground.

“I am very hopeful of a good run at The Festival and I would be hopeful that she will continue to race next season. The programme of races encourages owners to keep mares in training and it is certainly great for racing.”

The final set of entries for The Festival 2009, those for the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase, will be revealed next Tuesday, March 3. The contest had been due to close this week, but given the large number of abandoned point-to-points and hunter chases this year, the qualification period has been extended by an extra week.

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