Meade favours longer option for Concerto

NOEL MEADE is “pretty certain” the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle will be Aran Concerto’s target at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old – very much a rising star for his County Meath handler – is a strong favourite at a best-priced 5-2 for that race over two mile and five furlongs.

He also holds an entry in the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices’ Hurdle over a shorter distance, for which he can be backed at 8-1.

“I think it’s pretty certain the Ballymore Properties is the race we are going to go for, but I will leave him in the Supreme Novices’ as well,” said Meade.

He reported Aran Concerto to be in tip-top shape following his impressive victory in the Grade One Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown earlier this month.

“He’s come out of the race great,” confirmed Meade.

But Meade is increasingly worried the ground at Cheltenham might not be ideal for 2005 Champion Hurdle runner-up Harchibald.

The eight-year-old was an eased-down last of five behind Newmill in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle run in testing conditions at Gowran Park on Saturday.

That was only his second race in 14 months and his first since he disappointed when an odds-on favourite at Tipperary in October.

However, Meade reports the mercurial gelding to have come out of the race fine and on course for another crack at the Smurfit Kappa-sponsored blue riband, in which the trainer also plans to run Iktitaf and Jazz Messenger.

“Harchibald was a bit stiff after the race, but he’s always like that when he runs. He seems OK,” said the County Meath handler.

“The Champion will be the plan, but the weather is the bogey at the moment.

“I wouldn’t worry about him not having another run before Cheltenham. It’s just that he can’t go on that soft ground.

“He wants good ground. At Gowran the other day, he got tired and Paul (Carberry) eased him down.

“He’s pretty fit, it’s just the ground. It’s looking unlikely he’ll get his ideal ground.

“Iktitaf definitely runs, as does Jazz Messenger.”

Harchibald is as big as 25-1 for the Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival on March 13.

Meanwhile In Compliance will put his reputation as a credible candidate for the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on the line at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

Michael O’Brien’s up-and-coming performer will take on a host of Ireland’s top stayers in the At The Races Bobbyjo Chase, including John Smith’s Grand National winner Numbersixvalverde.

In Compliance has won both of his starts during the winter, first at Down Royal and then when taking the huge scalp of War Of Attrition in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.

However, he has not been seen since that race on December 10, is yet to race over trips further than around two and a half miles and missed a start in the recent Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup when O’Brien reported he was not happy with the horse’s fitness.

“Fairyhouse is the plan,” said Herve Barjot, racing manager to owner Sean Mulryan.

“The race is over three miles and a furlong, and we won it with Forget The Past last year.

“It will be a good preparation and if he stays, then we know we can go for the Gold Cup.”

As for In Compliance’s well-being, Barjot said: “So far, so good.”

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