Gifford issues Bear warning

Trainer Nick Gifford believes Straw Bear still has something to prove before he can justify his short price in the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.

The JP McManus-owned five-year-old is as short as 8-1 with William Hill for the Festival opener after winning both his starts over hurdles.

However, Gifford thinks the form of his victories at Leicester and Folkestone does not equate to the records of some of his rivals.

He said: “In my eyes he’s still no way an 8-1 shot for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It’s a ridiculous price with horses like Noland, Natal and Boychuk in there. They’ve won round Cheltenham or they’ve won on good ground.

“We haven’t achieved anything like they’ve achieved and Acambo (third at Leicester) certainly didn't frank the form at Musselburgh.

“We know Straw Bear’s a nice horse but whether he justifies being the price he is, that’s doubtful. I think we’d be going to Cheltenham as a live each-way chance, providing the ground was suitable.

“I’m under no pressure to run him and, if the ground was quick, we could give it a miss.”

Gifford is also set to run Newbury winner Wee Robbie at the Festival but the six-year-old’s target has yet to be decided.

“Wee Robbie runs well fresh. At the moment it would be 50-50 between the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle and the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle,” explained the handler.

“If it was genuine good ground, he might go for the three-mile race because I think they may go too quick in the SunAlliance.

“It was soft when he won at Newbury and all he did was stay on. If it was on the softer side, then the SunAlliance would be more favourable.”

Wee Robbie will be making his second Festival appearance after finishing 13th in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper last year but Gifford believes he will show his best over fences in the future.

“He is an archetypal chaser and it’s that old cliché that anything he does over hurdles is a bonus,” he said.

“We looked after him last season in bumpers and he ran very well when 13th behind Missed That in the Festival Bumper.

“He was a baby and didn’t really know what he was doing but Leighton Aspell looked after him and he ran a cracker against precocious horses with gears. One thing he hasn’t got is gears but he is a relentless galloper.”

Gifford could also have a third runner in the shape of John Smith’s Grand National contender Joly Bey but he is more likely to run at Newbury than Cheltenham.

Gifford added: “He’s had a wind operation and he’s back cantering now. He needs a run before Aintree to find out if that has worked so plan A is the Vodafone Gold Cup at Newbury, but I’ll be making three entries for him at The Festival in case we need to fall back on plan B.”

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