Half-speed canter for Kauto

Kauto Star continues to make strides in his race to be primed for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday week.

It is nearly a week since news emerged the star 12-year-old had taken a schooling fall at home.

Trainer Paul Nicholls has since issued regular updates on his progress at the Ditcheat yard and after stating last week the horse was only 50-50 to line up at the Festival, the vibes have been much more positive in recent days.

Nicholls is planning a racecourse gallop for the dual Gold Cup victor at Wincanton on Friday and did his routine exercise without issue on Wednesday.

“Nothing major to report today but we are, thankfully, still heading in the right direction,” he told his Betfair column.

“He once again had his physio and his hour on the walker.

“And then he had a half-speed 10-furlong canter with Big Buck’s and then a canter up the hill with him, too.

“In fact, all my Cheltenham horses did the same routine – so Kauto did everything the other Festival horses did today.

“Clifford (Baker, head lad) is still smiling and at one point I thought he was going to do Kauto’s box roll for him!”

Kauto Star is a 4-1 chance with the sponsors for Festival glory, with last year’s victor Long Run Betfred’s 13-8 favourite.

nSprinter Sacre will face a maximum of nine rivals in the Racing Post Arkle on Tuesday.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has been hugely impressive in remaining unbeaten over fences, including in the Game Spirit Chase last time out.

Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Al Ferof will represent Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh – although stablemate Cristal Bonus has also been left in.

Menorah, another former Supreme winner, and Cue Card, the 2010 Champion Bumper scorer, add further strength in depth.

Peddlers Cross has, as expected, been taken out, with the Jewson Novices’ Chase now his aim.

Willie Mullins has left in Blackstairmountain, although he has removed Sir Des Champs from contention.

The other Irish challengers are Tony Martin’s Nearest The Pin and the John Ryan-trained Foildubh.

* Hurricane Fly is one of 12 remaining entries in the Stan James Champion Hurdle Tuesday.

Willie Mullins’ excellent hurdler had question marks over his wellbeing after missing his first few possible engagements this season, but he returned to action with a stunning victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January and is odds-on to defend his crown.

Ireland’s champion trainer has also left in Thousand Stars, fourth last year, and Zaidpour, who has gone unbeaten this season.

Paul Nicholls has four of the remaining entries, headed by last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar.

Rock On Ruby also had solid claims after being touched off in the Christmas Hurdle, while Celestial Halo and Brampour could also run.

Nicky Henderson started the season with four possible candidates but with Spirit Son and Grandouet injured and Oscar Whisky taking on Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle, he relies solely upon 2010 winner Binocular.

Jessica Harrington will hope Oscars Well has more luck than at Cheltenham 12 months ago when he finished an unfortunate fourth in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.

Ante-post favourite Darlan heads 33 horses confirmed for Tuesday’s William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the opening event of the Festival.

Nicky Henderson’s charge was last seen when crashing out in the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but his departure at the penultimate obstacle has hardly dented punters’ confidence.

He is one of four left in the two-mile heat by the Seven Barrows handler, with Ericht, Molotof and Tetlami also standing their ground.

Henderson has, as expected, taken Simonsig out of the reckoning, with the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle now his intended target.

Jessica Harrington’s Steps To Freedom also features among the acceptors, along with six from Willie Mullins’ yard, headed by Sous Les Cieux and Midnight Game.

The Tom Taaffe-trained Distant Memories would be another interesting contender for the Irish team.

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