Willoughby Court will bid to extend his unbeaten record over fences to three in the Betbright Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham today, writes Colin Wilson
The Ben Pauling-trained ace returns to the Prestbury Park circuit for the first time since winning the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival in March.
Since then he was won over the bigger obstacles at Huntingdon and, most recently, at Newbury, where he looked much more polished.
Pauling said: “He is A1 since his win at Newbury. He obviously handles the ground and we know that should not be a concern. He is very healthy and I am happy with him.
“He has got to give weight away all round, but we are prepared for that.
“He is in great form and we are expecting him to run well once again.”
He added: “I would have loved to have gone and looked at the Feltham (at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day) but, after it did not quite work out at Huntingdon for various reasons, I did not want to go back right-handed just yet and the Dipper looked the obvious choice.
“Although I am sure if we’d gone to Kempton everything would be fine, if it wasn’t, you would be annoyed with yourself.
“This could be his last run before the Festival. We will have to see because it is all match practice, but if he comes through this with flying colours, he might not be seen again until March.”
Renewing rivalry with Willoughby Court is the Alan King-trained Yanworth, who made late ground at Newbury to beaten three lengths.
The former top-notch staying hurdler made a winning fencing bow at Exeter in October, before falling back at the same track.
King said: “It’s entitled to be a good race. He worked well on Saturday morning and I am very happy with him. He has had a couple of schools with Yogi Breisner.
“He should not mind the ground, even though it will be very testing.
“He is getting 5lb off Willoughby Court which will help. We will just be taking things one race at a time with him.”
Graeme McPherson is expecting a good run from Ami Desbois, who is also two from two over fences.
He said: “He is in absolutely cracking form and I am delighted to see all this rain and dreadful weather about as it means he will have his optimum conditions for the first time this season.
“We had considered running him in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase but decided to wait for Cheltenham, due to the forecast. I had a walk around Kempton before Christmas and thought it walked good to soft, so even with some rain it was not likely to be as soft as Cheltenham will be after a week of rain.
“I think he would have run very, very well in the Kauto Star and the extra few days and the softer ground is going to help him rather than hinder him.
“I think it is going to be a very exciting race.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies is pleased to get Ballyandy back on a racecourse, with several minor issues having kept him out since he made a winning debut over the bigger obstacles at Perth at the end of September.
“I’m very much looking forward to running him. He’s in good form and is one of our nicest horses,” Twiston-Davies said.
“He had a very good start over fences at Perth. We’ve had a few niggling problems, but that’s all behind him now.”
Colin Tizzard’s Sizing Tennessee completes the small but select field.
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