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Festival Novice Hurdles Well Supported

Entries are revealed today, Thursday, January 31, for the four Grade One novice hurdles at The Festival – the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle, the JCB Triumph Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, which is being run as a Grade One contest for the first time in 2008.

The 130 entries for the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the traditional curtain-raiser to The Festival on Tuesday, March 11, include last season’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper victor Cork All Star, one of 46 Irish-trained entries along with Muirhead, who is unbeaten in three starts including the Grade One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse last month when he got the better of Cork All Star. Willie Mullins, successful last year with Ebaziyan as well as Tourist Attraction in 1995, has five engaged this time around while Whatuthink could attempt to provide Oliver McKiernan with a first Festival success. A very interesting contender is the Andy Turnell-trained Blue Bajan, formerly a very smart Flat performer who has made a highly-promising start to his career over hurdles.

There are 156 entered in the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle, run on Wednesday, March 12, with 57 trained in Ireland. These include the Nicky Henderson-trained Aigle D’Or, the current ante-post favourite and an impressive scorer at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, January 26, in the Grade Two Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle. Other leading contenders include Breedsbreeze, trained by Paul Nicholls and successful in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month.

Alan King captured the 2007 JCB Triumph Hurdle with Katchit and he trains this year’s market leader Franchoek, successful in two out of his three starts at Cheltenham already this season, most recently in the Grade Two Wragge & Co Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle on Festival Trials Day. The one horse to have got the better of Franchoek over hurdles was the Gordon Elliott-trained Harper Valley, successful in the Juvenile Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham on December 15 when he proved a length and a half too good for the J P McManus-owned horse and the duo could re-oppose on March 14. There are 91 entries in the JCB Triumph Hurdle with 32 trained in Ireland.



A year ago, Jeremy Scott was preparing a promising seven-year-old point-to-pointer called Gone To Lunch for an ambitious tilt at the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase at The Festival. A fall four out put paid to the plan but roll on a year and the Somerset trainer is again dreaming of saddling the same gelding to Cheltenham glory.

The horse has come a long way in a short time, so much so that he is now at the head of the betting for the £100,000 Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle following a fine third behind two-time Ladbrokes World Hurdle champion Inglis Drever in the Grade Two Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, January 26.

The gelding - boasting an official rating of 151 - is one of 106 high-class entries for the fourth running of the three-mile championship contest, run on Friday, March 14, which was won last year by the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Wichita Lineman, and has been upgraded to Grade One status for the first time in 2008.

Scott revealed today: “The plan is to almost certainly run him at The Festival in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. We’re very excited by his effort behind Inglis Drever, he did everything we hoped he would and a bit more, so that was fantastic.

“I guess it’s fair to say that he’s the best I’ve trained. He ran at The Festival last year and tipped up four out in the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase. It was a bit of a bold move us taking him up there but we knew we had a good horse. He has exceeded all expectations over hurdles really.”

Switched to hurdles after that debut under Rules, Gone To Lunch rattled off a quartet of triumphs between June and November, including in the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle over an extended three miles and a furlong at Cheltenham in October. He then went down by a length and a quarter to the classy Nenuphar Collonges when attempting to concede 7lb to that rival in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over the course and distance in December, before taking on Inglis Drever.

Scott continued: “I would be fairly confident of him running a big race again. He goes well on good and good to firm ground so if it was quickish ground at The Festival then that wouldn’t worry me and equally, he seemed to handle that good to soft the other day.

“Age is probably against him but I think he’s a bit of a spring horse, so whilst there’s not a huge amount of improvement in there, there’s probably a tiny bit - I’d be fairly hopeful of a big run. If he was a six-year-old I probably would never have run him in the Byrne Group Cleeve Hurdle anyway. He’d been around the block a bit so I thought we’d take our chance.

“We raced him for two or three seasons point-to-pointing after buying him in Ireland as a four-year-old. We brought him up through the ranks and he earned his place at Cheltenham last year by winning a couple of Opens.”

Scott has about 20 horses, eight of whom he trains under public licence at Higher Holworthy Farm within the bounds of Exmoor and is no stranger to success at Prestbury Park, having also saddled County Derry to victory at Cheltenham’s Hunter Chase meeting in April, 2004. The same horse competed three times in the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase at The Festival, finishing third to Earthmover in the 2004 renewal.

Gone To Lunch, like County Derry, is owned by Gary Lever who is involved in the property business in London and is Scott’s principal patron.

The trainer said: “Gary Lever owns and has shares in about four or five horses here and is a fantastic owner. His first horse was County Derry who did so well at Cheltenham and after that the racing bug got hold of him.”

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