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Big Guns Remain on Course for Championship Contests

The countdown to The Festival 2011 intensifies today with the unveiling of the acceptors for the five main championship contests at The Festival – the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup (run on Gold Cup Day, Friday, March 18), the Queen Mother Champion Chase (run on Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 16), the Ryanair Chase (run on St Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 17), the Stan James Champion Hurdle (run on Centenary Day, Tuesday, March 15) and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle (also run on St Patrick’s Day) – following the February 15 scratchings deadline.

Imperial Commander

Imperial Commander
There are no surprise withdrawals from the £500,000 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, which has 24 contenders going forward including the last three winners – Kauto Star (2007 and 2009), Denman (2008) and Imperial Commander (2010). Timeform reckons Imperial Commander will retain his crown, giving him a rating of 193, 1lb clear of Denman on 192 with impressive William Hill King George VI Chase hero Long Run on 189 and Hennessy Gold Cup scorer Diamond Harry on 176p. Kauto Star is only rated fifth-best but, with a rating of 176+, Timeform thinks the 11-year-old may not have been at his best when third to Long Run at Kempton.

Master Minded, who has been taken out of the Ryanair Chase, is one of 15 entries remaining in the £320,000 Queen Mother Champion Chase and with a rating of 190, Timeform makes him 5lb clear of Somersby (185), who ran the Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old to a short-head at Ascot last month. Nicholls is also responsible for the progressive Woolcombe Folly (180+), while last year’s winner Big Zeb is on 180, 1lb in front of his recent Punchestown conqueror Golden Silver (179+).

Somersby and Golden Silver are also two of the 32 entries left in the £260,000 Ryanair Chase, which could also feature Cheltenham specialist Poquelin (179), who became the first horse to win back to back renewals of the Vote AP Gold Cup at The International in December, and Riverside Theatre (178) who chased home Long Run in the William Hill King George VI Chase last time out.

Timeform also fancies Binocular to retain his crown in the £370,000 Stan James Champion Hurdle, giving the Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old a rating of 179. His closest pursuer among the 28 remaining entries, according to Timeform, is seven-time Irish Grade One scorer Hurricane Fly (177+) while recent Welsh Champion Hurdle winner Oscar Whisky is on 174p along with Menorah (174+), unbeaten in three outings at Cheltenham including in last year’s Stan James Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Silviniaco Conti (174) and the 2010 runner-up Khyber Kim (174).

A total of 34 entries go forward for the £260,000 Ladbrokes World Hurdle, which on paper looks to be between Big Buck’s (185+ with Timeform), who is bidding to become only the second horse to win the three-mile contest three times and the first to achieve the treble in consecutive years, and Grand Crus (183p), who has won all of his starts in impressive fashion this season, most recently when sauntering to a 10-length victory in the Grade Two Rewards4Racing Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, January 29.

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