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Cheltenham Festival Trials 2008 

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Blazing Bailey Primed for Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle Repeat

Trainer Alan King reports his top staying hurdler Blazing Bailey to be in “good form” ahead of the six-year-old’s attempt to score a repeat victory in the £60,000 Grade Two Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle (3.50pm) over three miles at Cheltenham’s Festival Trials Day on Saturday, January 26.

Blazing Bailey

Blazing Bailey

King revealed this morning: “Blazing Bailey is due to run in the Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle. I was very pleased with his win at Cheltenham last time. It was good to get him back in form and I didn’t really expect him to win - I thought he’d finish third or fourth. I’m delighted with him and he’s been in good form since.”

Blazing Bailey defeated Inglis Drever in the 2007 Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle before filling third spot behind that rival in the Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle at The Festival. On his latest start on January 1, King’s charge defeated Wichita Lineman by eight lengths in the Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles at Prestbury Park.

King continued: “The ground isn’t a concern for Blazing Bailey. It was heavy last year when he won so I’d be fairly relaxed about the ground.”

Lady Rebecca became a real Cheltenham favourite when securing three successes in the Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle (1999, 2000 & 2001), while the roll of honour also includes Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle winners Flakey Dove (1994) and Beech Road (1990), as well the top-class Large Action (1997).

The contest is one of four Grade Two events on Festival Trials Day, a fantastic seven-race programme that guarantees thrilling action, while revealing plenty of pointers to Festival success.

Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott is fast making a name for himself and is planning to notch back-to-back Cheltenham wins with the classy hurdler Harper Valley, although he is aware that victory could spell the end of his tenure as the four-year-old’s handler.

The Val Royal gelding is primed to take his chance in the £30,000 Grade Two Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle (3.15pm) over two miles and a furlong, before stepping into the sales ring that evening at the Brightwells January National Hunt Sale.

Harper Valley is catalogued in the Brightwells auction, commencing in The Centaur at 6pm. The sale provides a fantastic opportunity to purchase a horse with the potential to run at The Festival. The catalogue also offers 50 unraced horses that will breeze on the new Ecotrack surface from 10.15am that morning.

Elliott revealed today: “The plan at the moment is for Harper Valley to go back to Cheltenham for the Wragge & Co Finesse Hurdle and then be offered at Brightwells’ Cheltenham sale that evening.”

Harper Valley opened his account over hurdles in great style when defeating current JCB Triumph Hurdle joint-market leader Franchoek in the Best Odds Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle over the course and distance on December 15.

Franchoek, 5/1 joint-favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle in most lists, is set to reoppose in the Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Four Year Old Hurdle, in which he will be seven pounds better off with Harper Valley for a length and a half defeat.

Elliott continued: “Harper Valley is in great order - he missed four or five days recently with a bit of a stone bruise but he’s okay now. I don’t think the revised weight is going to be a problem with Franchoek. It’s going to be a good race and I think he’s definitely up to running in the first three.”

The Irish handler also reported: “The improvement last time was definitely down to the ground. He likes nice ground and the plan is to go to Cheltenham on the 26th and then we’ll hopefully see him run in the JCB Triumph Hurdle after that.”

Richard Botterill of Brightwells commented: "One of our main strategies for our new Cheltenham January Sale is to give owners and trainers the opportunity to buy a horse to run at the Cheltenham Festival six weeks later, and one could not ask for a more exciting prospect than Harper Valley to illustrate the opportunity.”

The Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle is a fantastic pointer to the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival and the King-trained Katchit won both races in 2007.

King is looking to repeat last year’s success, this time with Franchoek, who was the decisive winner of the Grade One Coral Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on December 27.

The Barbury Castle handler revealed today: “Franchoek runs in the Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Hurdle and he’s very well. I’m never confident about anything but I think he will run very well.”

The two mile, one furlong race has also been won by outstanding performers such as Jair Du Cochet (2001) and the 2002 Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle hero Hors La Loi (1999), who defeated the top-class Behrajan in the race prior to adding the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at that year’s Festival.

Festival Trials Day is the final day’s racing at Prestbury Park prior to The Festival itself and the afternoon’s feature contest is the lucrative £100,000 Grade Two Letheby & Christopher Chase (2.40pm). The extended three mile, one furlong race is one of the premier trials for the Grade One totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup at The Festival, as well as being a prestigious race in its own right.

Last year’s renewal saw the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Exotic Dancer defeat Our Vic by 18 lengths, prior to filling the runner-up berth behind Kauto Star in the totesport Gold Cup. Sir Robert Ogden’s gelding finished the season rated the second best chaser in training.

Exotic Dancer is reported to be on course for the race again and is set to face strong opposition that could include the Paul Nicholls duo of Neptune Collonges and 2006 Grade One Royal & SunAlliance Chase winner Star De Mohaison, as well as the top-class David Pipe-trained Celestial Gold, 2006 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup victor State Of Play and Billyvoddan.

Past winners of the Letheby & Christopher Chase include the Paul Nicholls-trained See More Business, who scored a second triumph in the race in 2001. He also landed the spoils in 1998 and was third to Cyfor Malta in 1999 before his totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph that season.

Looks Like Trouble in 2000 and Master Oats in 1995 both scored in the Letheby & Christopher Chase en route to totesport Gold Cup glory the same year.

The £30,000 Grade Two Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle (1pm) was won last year by Wichita Lineman. The Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding took the extended two and a half mile contest by six lengths from Tidal Bay, with Massini’s Maguire third, and subsequently triumphed in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival.

Massini’s Maguire reversed form with Tidal Bay when winning the Grade One Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle at the 2007 Festival, with his rival a neck runner-up.

The card also includes the £55,000 Grade Three Trophy Chase (2.10pm) over two miles, five furlongs, the £25,000 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (1.35pm) over the same distance and the £25,000 Brightwells Cheltenham Bloodstock Auctions Handicap Hurdle (4.25pm) over two miles and a furlong.

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