Champetre spot on for Bolger

Enda Bolger and owner JP McManus must never have thought they would find a horse to replace Spot Thedifference but Garde Champetre edged closer to surpassing his achievements at Cheltenham today.

Enda Bolger and owner JP McManus must never have thought they would find a horse to replace Spot Thedifference but Garde Champetre edged closer to surpassing his achievements at Cheltenham today.

Spot Thedifference triumphed on seven occasions around the cross-country course and his successor is now up to five, with one extra Festival victory already.

The fog had only just lifted from Prestbury Park when the gelding played the lead role in raising the spirits of the crowd by getting the better of Sizing Australia in a barnstorming finish.

A weight of 11st 12lb made it a tall order for Garde Champetre in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase and he had to cope without Nina Carberry, who swapped for Heads Ontheground with JT McNamara.

McNamara gradually sneaked the 9-4 favourite into the competition and although there were five horses with chances at the final obstacle, Garde Champetre pulled out extra when push came to shove.

"He's really after taking over from Spot now," said Bolger.

"We were scared about that weight on his back and he was slipping into different shoes with JT on board.

"Nina had no problem stepping in with Heads and it gave JT the opportunity to ride instead of watching the race on TV (as he could not do the weight on Heads Ontheground).

"He's an experienced horse and has won with his ears pricked."

Bolger added that Carberry would be back on the winner at the Festival and he could also be represented by L'Ami, who has undergone wind surgery.

McManus added: "This is a horse who had lost his way but Enda just gives these horses a new lease of life. He has adapted so well to the course."

Another surely heading for a return to the Cotswolds in March is Weird Al.

The 11-4 favourite had the misfortune of running when the grey mist was at its worst in the Cheltenham Collection Novices' Chase, but knew his way around from a win at the Paddy Power meeting and dominated proceedings.

Trainer Ian Williams reported: "He's had a year off every time he's run so it was great to get him back just a month after his first win over fences here.

"He's a galloper and a very exciting proposition. The RSA Chase is the target but although we haven't formulated a definite plan, I imagine he could well come back here at the end of January."

The Package has frustrated in recent starts but managed to land the Neptune Investment Management Handicap Chase, a contest that is becoming a recognised Grand National trial.

Given a textbook waiting ride by Timmy Murphy, the well-backed 6-1 chance held 3-1 favourite The Tother One by a length up the final hill.

Owner David Johnson said: "He was spotted by the late Tom Costello and we always felt there was a big race in him.

"We got three pounds for the three lengths he was beaten at Wincanton, so the form has worked out well. These days he's settling and jumping better.

"I guess he could be a National horse but more likely for 2011, as I still have Comply Or Die."

Trabolgan was running for just the third time since winning the 2005 Hennessy and pleased trainer Nicky Henderson in fourth.

"Barry Geraghty said he didn't make any noises and that run will really have helped," said Henderson.

"He has had so many problems but hopefully this will show our perseverance might be rewarded."

Henderson and Geraghty were to combine with two potentially high-end performers later on.

First, Spirit River (11-4 favourite) turned the Caspian Caviar Handicap Hurdle into a procession before General Miller (5-1) kept his unbeaten record by mastering the highly-rated Ghizao in the EBF "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle.

"(Spirit River) is only four and is a lovely big horse," said Henderson.

"There was a temptation to go chasing but we'll put it off for now.

"General Miller didn't find things easy at all to start, but he's getting there and that looked a good race."

The latter is 14-1 with William Hill for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Sound Stage (14-1) gave Caroline Keevil and Ian Popham their first taste of Cheltenham success in the CF Roberts Electrical + Mechanical Services Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Chase and Time For Rupert bounced back from a severe defeat by Zaynar at Ascot to strike at 16-1 in the boylepoker.com Handicap Hurdle.

Trainer Paul Webber said: "He took two runs to come to himself last season and that was just his second this time.

"If he keeps improving, I'd hope he could make the Ladbrokes World Hurdle."

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