Harchibald ‘really well’ ahead of Champion Hurdle tilt - Meade

TRAINER Noel Meade yesterday stated his intention to run Harchibald in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle next week “unless we find something really wrong with him”.

Harchibald, who was deposed as favourite for the championship event after working badly at Navan on Saturday, was giving his trainer the right signals yesterday.

He has already scoped well since the disappointing workout, and the results of a blood test are still awaited.

But Meade reported: “He is really well. He went out for a pick of grass on a lead today and we had a job holding on to him, he’s that well.

“At this stage he is still an intended runner. Unless we find something really wrong with him, he will run.”

The County Meath handler was “stunned” by Harchibald’s performance at Navan.

The gelding had a thorough check-up when he returned to the yard, but no excuses came to light.

He had worked over a mile and three-quarters under Peter Kavanagh and finished behind the trainer’s other Cheltenham-bound runners Wild Passion, Sir Oj and Watson Lake.

Oneway is to take on the cream of the two-milers in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, owner-trainer Mark Rimell revealed yesterday.

Rimell also announced that Graham Lee, who is expected to return from a broken collarbone later this week, will take the mount.

“He definitely runs in the Champion Chase and Graham Lee rides him. Graham got on with him well and I’d like to renew the partnership,” Rimell told At The Races.

Lee has been in the saddle for three of Oneway’s five wins this season with Jamie Moore successfully deputising on the other two occasions.

“It’s bad luck on Jamie who’s done nothing wrong on him but my preference would be for Graham,” the Oxfordshire handler went on.

Rimell admitted that it been a tough call to take on Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop, Well Chief and company rather than take the handicap option in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase.

Said the trainer: “It was a very difficult decision. From a handicapper’s point of view it would make sense to go for the Grand Annual. To meet the big three on level weights when he should be getting two stone from them would appear stupid.

“But the horse is very well, his confidence is at an all-time high obviously with the five wins behind him. I might not own him next year and I might not have the opportunity to put another horse in the race ever again.”

Oneway has gone up 42lb in the ratings - from 107 to 149 - since he opened the campaign by beating Colonel Frank at Worcester in October.

River City is on target for the Arkle Trophy after pleasing in a racecourse spin at Lingfield Park yesterday morning.

Trainer Noel Chance took the eight-year-old and stablemate Mendo to the Surrey track after re-routing from Kempton and he was satisfied with their performances.

Chance said: “We had to relocate again to Lingfield but River City worked over about six furlongs with Tom Doyle and he went well.

“Tom was delighted with him and he worked very nicely and is well on target for Cheltenham now.”

River City is around a 12-1 shot for the Arkle (as low as 10-1 with Coral) but he has not actually been seen on the track since October when he beat Contraband in a Listed race at Aintree.

Last year’s winner Earthmover is among a record 44 entries for the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase.

The 14-year-old defied his old age to beat a large field 12 months ago, six years after his first victory in the leading hunter chase. Paul Nicholls’s evergreen charge won at Fontwell last time out and he is around a 12-1 chance with Coral for this year’s race.

Earthmover’s stable companion Sleeping Night is the current favourite for the March 18 race but a strong Irish challenge of seven is topped by last year’s runner-up Never Compromise.

Recent Leopardstown scorer Lord Of The Turf and Edward O’Grady’s General Montcalm would be interesting possibles from the Emerald Isle while Sally Alner could try to follow up Kingscliff’s win in the 2003 race with Free Gift. Other notable possibles include the Olivia Jackson-trained Lord Atterbury, third in the Grand National last year, and Paddy For Paddy who beat Free Gift at Folkestone last time.

Jonjo O’Neill will rely on Classic Native and Golden Rambler as he bids for a fourth consecutive win in the National Hunt Chase.

The Jackdaws Castle handler sent out Native Emperor to take the extended four-mile race last year following on from victories for Sudden Shock and Rith Dubh.

O’Neill has endured a lean season due to a virus in the yard and Classic Native has not run since December while Golden Rambler was pulled up at Haydock last month.

Ante-post favourite is Pat Hughes’ Point Barrow, winner of both a Grade Two and Grade Three chase this season, and he is one of 11 Irish-trained entries. The Tony Martin stable has entered both Beau Colina and Rare Ouzel while Martin Pipe has the choice of 10 entries headed by Control Man and Sixo.

Ferdy Murphy’s promising novice Your A Gassman is among the 54 entries for the race as is Tom George’s Lord Of Illusion, who is also in the William Hill Trophy Chase and Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Festival meeting.

Ante-post favourite Missed That heads a record entry of 65 horses for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old has won two of his three starts to date and is the current 9-2 market leader with Coral.

Missed That heads a list of 15 Irish challengers with other possible raiders including Vintage Gold, trained by Vincent O’Brien’s son Charles, Firth Of Forth and Eye On The Ball.

Heading the home challenge is Refinement, runner-up in the race last year and one of three possibles for Jonjo O’Neill along with Black Jack Ketchum and Inaro.

Victor Dartnall’s exciting Karanja, an impressive winner of all his three starts is also entered in the extended two-mile race as is Len Lungo’s Rasharrow, a decisive winner of his only start to date. Other leading fancies include Oscar Park, Yaboya and The Mick Weston while England cricketer Andrew Flintoff could be represented by his namesake, Flintoff.

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