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Friday 3rd December 2021
   
Festival Focus Steps Up a Gear as Cheltenham Stars Face a Busy Christmas

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Preparation work for next year’s Cheltenham Festival will move into overdrive over the next few weeks, with a host of runners being put through their paces at the big Christmas meetings.

One trainer eager to make his mark at the home of jumps racing next year is Gordon Elliott, the County Meath handler was banned last year on the eve of the Festival.

Elliott felt the full weight of the horseracing authorities after a picture was released on social media of the trainer sitting astride a dead horse while seemingly on the phone. He was hit with a 12-month ban by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, six months of which was suspended, returning to his role at Cullentra in September.

It wasn’t long before he was showing he had lost none of his knack for getting the best out of his stable, and he is currently lying in second spot in the trainers’ championship behind Willie Mullins.

Among his runners earmarked for Cheltenham is the highly-rated Riviere D’etel, the four-year-old filly surprising the odds-on favourite Cape Gentleman in the Grade Two BetVictor Casino Novice Chase at Punchestown recently.

The impressive 21-furlong win saw his price for the Arkle slashed into 12/1, and Elliott is lining up a number of races over the coming weeks before deciding which route she will be taking, with all roads leading to Gloucestershire.

After a possible run at either Navan or Cork, she’ll likely be at Leopardstown on Boxing Day for the Racing Post Novice Chase, where her rivals could include Appreciate It, currently the favourite for the Arkle.

“She’ll have entries at Navan and Cork, but I’d say the plan will be to go to the Grade One as she’ll get all the allowances as a four-year-old,” said Elliott.

“She jumps very well so I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t go there. The Arkle is a long way off so we’ll get Christmas out of the way, but if she comes through this, you’d have to be thinking about it.”

Despite looking like a potential Arkle horse, the betting for race two of the opening day of next March’s Festival favours the Mullins pair, Appreciate It and Ferny Hollow. Appreciate It took the Supreme Novices Hurdle last year and has won his last four starts, which explains the short 5/2 price offered.

Ferny Hollow, 8/1 for the Arkle, took the 2020 Champion Bumper at the Festival and despite his long absence – he’s been out of racing for 12 months – he has the class to make his mark over the two miles at Prestbury Park. His last run was a hard-earned one length success over Bob Olinger in the Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle at Gowran Park, a race that saw him pick up a troublesome injury in his hind quarters.

Despite the loss to Ferny Hollow, Henry De Bromhead’s Bob Olinger is a very interesting potential runner at attractive betting odds of 12/1 according to the racing experts of Horse.bet. The six-year-old horse followed up that defeat at Gowran Park with four straight wins, including the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at last year’s Festival.

Another Mullins entrant in the Arkle worth taking closer look at is Gaillard Du Mesnil, if he runs. He finished behind Bob Olinger at last year’s Festival, and the five-year-old jumps well and has only been beaten twice; at 33/1 he is very much worth an each-way bet.

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