McLernon gets nod for Holywell ride

Richie McLernon has guided Holywell to Cheltenham Festival glory for the last two seasons and trainer Jonjo O’Neill is banking on the combination coming good once more in the Gold Cup.

McLernon gets nod for Holywell ride

The application of first-time blinkers helped the eight-year-old spring a 25-1 surprise in the 2013 Pertemps Final under McLernon, who was also on board when the partnership struck gold in handicap company over fences 12 months later.

Having finished third behind subsequent Hennessy hero Many Clouds on his seasonal return at Carlisle, Holywell unseated McLernon at Aintree in December.

But with the blinkers fitted once more, he got his season back on track under Tony McCoy with a stylish display at Kelso.

With McCoy set to partner Carlingford Lough for his boss JP McManus, O’Neill is pleased to call upon McLernon’s services once more and is keeping his fingers crossed for a sound surface at Cheltenham on March 13.

O’Neill said: “Richie McLernon won on him the last twice (Iast two Festivals) and I’ve no reason not to put him on as he’s done a good job on him and they click well together.

“He could do with it drying out a bit, but he likes Cheltenham, having won over fences here last year.

“Hopefully he’ll win the Gold Cup this year.”

Whether Coneygree will be one of Holywell’s Festival rivals remains uncertain with connections of the eight-year-old undecided as to which race he will contest.

Mark Bradstock’s crack novice chaser was an emphatic winner of the Grade Two Denman Chase at Newbury when last sighted, a perfect trial for the Gold Cup, but he remains as short as 3-1 for the RSA Chase on March 11.

Bradstock’s wife and assistant, Sara, said: “We’re going hold on right to the last moment to ensure we make the right decision.

“That way, we’ll be more the wiser as to what the ground is going to be like and who will be running.

“We’re not against running in the Gold Cup – but we’ll sit down in the next week or so and hopefully make the right choice.

“I actually think he would win the RSA with all things level and he worked very well on Tuesday morning.”

Meanwhile, clerk of the course Simon Claisse has expressed satisfaction with the shape of all three courses ahead of Cheltenham.

Although there is rain forecast over the next two weeks, the situation is set fair for the four-day fixture.

Claisse said: “I’m pretty happy with things. We have a mixture of good to soft ground.

“The Old Course is predominantly a bit softer, while the New and Cross-Country Course are a bit quicker.

“At the moment, the long-range forecast says it will be relatively unsettled for the next 10 days and that we will receive about an inch of rain.

“We have probably had half the rainfall we did last year, but I’m pleased the way it looks, and although the grass growth is a little bit behind, things are picking up.”

Claisse was speaking at a Cheltenham press conference, in which the weights for all 11 of the handicaps at the Festival were released.

While most of the horses were easy enough to assess, handicapper Graeme Smith said two horses had caused a few headaches.

Smith said: “Quick Jack’s (Coral Cup, County Hurdle, Martin Pipe) profile makes him one of the most intriguing horses at the Festival, while Brother Brian (Pertemps, Coral Cup, Hughie Morrison) is well in, if the figures of his form from the Relkeel hurdle can be trusted.

“It was a relatively modest race and they didn’t go an end-to-end gallop.”

Cheltenham racecourse is currently undergoing a €61.5 million makeover, but course officials were able to issue an upbeat bulletin.

Ian Renton, south west regional director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “Huge progress has been made as the season has gone on.

“More spaces will be open, allowing people greater access to move around and avoid some of the bottlenecks.

“It is a fantastic Festival to aim a horse at throughout the season.

“It is the Olympics of jump racing and we want it to remain that way.”

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