Trainer Shark Hanlon is leaning towards the Ryanair Chase with Hidden Cyclone following Cue Card’s defection.
The 10-year-old was runner-up behind Dynaste in the Cheltenham Festival Grade One 12 months ago, but looked set for a tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase after a brilliant display in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown last month.
He remains as short as 10-1 for the two-mile championship next Wednesday, but with Cue Card now ruled out of the longer race on Tuesday morning and Dynaste already on the sidelines, Hanlon is now favouring the Ryanair the next day.
The County Carlow handler said: “I haven’t spoken to the owners yet but with Cue Card coming out of the Ryanair, in my own mind I would be tending to lean that way now.
“It’s not definite as yet. I’ll speak to the owners and I’ll know more after that, but Cue Card coming out does open the Ryanair up that bit more.
“You never know what might come out of the Champion Chase in the next day or two.
“If Sprinter Sacre or Sire De Grugy came out, we might rethink. Nobody expected Cue Card to come out.
“It’s a bit up in the air, but at the moment I’d be leaning towards the Ryanair myself, especially with the ground drying up.
“We’re happy with him and he’s in good form.”
Cue Card, so impressive in the Ryanair Chase in 2013, will miss the Festival for the second consecutive season after suffering a late setback.
Trainer Colin Tizzard said: “He was making a noise and we had him looked at it. He’ll miss Cheltenham but he should be OK for Aintree.”
Ante-post favourite for the Ryanair is the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack, with Ma Filleule next best on the list.
Meanwhile trainer Tom Mullins is hopeful dual Cheltenham Festival winner Alderwood is returning to peak form just in time for his return to Prestbury Park.
Winner of the County Hurdle in 2012 and the Grand Annual 12 months later, the JP McManus-owned 11-year-old began the season with some decent efforts in defeat, picking up minor honours behind Don Cossack and Champagne Fever.
Alderwood endured a spell on the doldrums during December and January, but there were signs of a revival when he finished fourth in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last month. Mullins is now weighing up his Festival options.
The County Kilkenny handler said: “Alderwood will either go for the Coral Cup or the two-mile-five chase (Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase) on the Thursday.
“We are still trying to make up our minds as to which one to go for.
“The rest of the yard is in good form and hopefully he is coming on as well.”
Connections of Road to Riches believe fellow Irish challenger Carlingford Lough could be the one to beat in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Noel Meade-trained Road to Riches is considered one of the main hopes for the raiding party after his impressive victory in the Lexus Chase over Christmas.
But Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for his owners, Gigginstown Hose Stud, is wary of the threat posed by Carlingford Lough, who will be Tony McCoy’s last ride in the Gold Cup.
Trained by John Kiely and owned by JP McManus, the nine-year-old excelled at Leopardstown last month when he claimed the Irish Hennessy by three-quarters of a length.
O’Leary said: “Road To Riches is a nice horse who goes with a chance, but if you ask me who the right horse is for a Gold Cup, I’d be all over JP’s horse.”
Chesterfield has been ruled out of the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after sustaining a leg injury.
Trainer John Ferguson confirmed that the five-year-old will not take up his entry in the two-mile-one-furlong contest on March 13, for which he was as short as 14-1 with a number of firms.
Prior to falling at Kempton on his last outing, the former Saeed bin Suroor-trained gelding raced to victory at Cheltenham in November when posting a length victory in a novice handicap hurdle.
Ferguson said: “Chesterfield will unfortunately not be running at the Cheltenham Festival as a scan the other day showed he has a leg problem which will keep him on the sidelines. It is a shame as he would have had a big chance.”
Chesterfield is not the only notable absentee from the Cowlinge handler’s team, with Purple Bay set to sidestep an entry in the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
After winning the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in November, the six-year-old was a creditable second to Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park.
Ferguson said: “Purple Bay will not run in the Champion Hurdle. We will be looking at other targets for him.”
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