Jump racing’s star performer Douvan heads 14 confirmations and one supplementary entry for the £365,760 G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on the second day of The Festival, Ladies Day, Wednesday 15th March.
Queen Mother Champion Chase hopeful, Douvan, is unbeaten in 13 starts for Willie Mullins including a pair of victories at The Festival in the 2015 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and last year’s Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase.
Top Gamble has been supplemented by trainer Kerry Lee at a cost of £17,500. The imposing nine-year-old is a multiple G2 winner over fences and was third behind Douvan’s stablemate Un De Sceaux (Willie Mullins IRE) on his latest start in the rearranged G1 Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham on 28th January.
Lee said: “I was very happy with Top Gamble on Festival Trials Day. His work since has been great and that has encouraged us to supplement.
“You obviously have to be very respectful of the opposition, in particular a horse like Douvan, but we think we have a fighting chance of playing a part in the race. It looks worth a shot.
“We are always hoping for a bit more rain but it never seems to fall for The Festival. The ground will be on the easy side and that should suit him.”
Outstanding novice Altior (Nicky Henderson) has been left in after trouncing Fox Norton (Colin Tizzard) by 13 lengths in the G2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on 11th February, although he is almost certain to contest the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase on Champion Day, Tuesday 14th March.
Tom George is doubly represented by God’s Own, who was fourth last year before going on to G1 triumphs at Aintree and Punchestown, and G2 Haldon Gold Cup victor Sir Valentino.
The four Irish-trained acceptors are completed by front-runner Special Tiara (Henry de Bromhead), third in both 2015 and 2016, and classy mare Vroum Vroum Mag (Willie Mullins IRE), who has a choice of races over hurdles and fences.
The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase confirmations are completed by Uxizandre (Alan King), who is set to go for the Ryanair Chase, Garde La Victoire (Philip Hobbs), L’Ami Serge (Nicky Henderson), Traffic Fluide (Gary Moore), Simply Ned (Nicky Richards) and Sizing Granite (Colin Tizzard).
Neon Wolf (Harry Fry), who also has the option of running in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Champion Day, and unbeaten G1 winner Finian’s Oscar (Colin Tizzard) headline 40 acceptors for the G1 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has 20 entries still engaged, including G1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle victor Bacardys, Melon, Augusta Kate and Let’s Dance, while other leading contenders include Death Duty (Gordon Elliott IRE) and Messire Des Obeaux (Alan King), who have both also scored at G1 level over hurdles.
Might Bite (Nicky Henderson), twice an impressive chase winner at Doncaster this season, features among 26 confirmations for the G1 RSA Novices’ Chase.
The eight-year-old’s only blemish over fences to date came in the G1 32Red Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on December 26, when he fell at the final fence with a clear lead to hand victory to Royal Vacation (Colin Tizzard)
Henderson could also run Whisper, who has twice been successful at Cheltenham this season and won the 2014 Coral Cup at The Festival. Top Irish challengers for the RSA Novices’ Chase include last season’s G1 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle second Alpha Des Obeaux (Mouse Morris) and Acapella Bourgeois (Sandra Hughes), a runaway G2 winner at Navan on 19th February.
Listed 32Red Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle victor Modus (Paul Nicholls, 11st 12lb) heads the weights for the G3 Coral Cup. A total of 89 six-day acceptors also features the Gordon Elliott-trained pair of Tombstone (11st 5lb), following a G3 victory at Gowran Park on 18th February, and Navan handicap hurdle scorer Automated (10st 12lb).
Consul De Thaix (Nicky Henderson, 10st 10lb) has twice finished runner-up behind Stan James Champion Hurdle contender Brain Power in valuable handicap hurdles this season, while Peregrine Run (Peter Fahey IRE, 10st 12lb), a G2 winner at The Open in November, and the progressive Air Horse One (Harry Fry, 10st 10lb) also remain engaged. A maximum of 26 horses can run.
Trainer Enda Bolger and owner JP McManus have teamed up to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on five occasions and the trainer/owner combination have five contenders this year including course winner Cantlow and Auvergnat, a winner over Punchestown’s banks course on 5th February.
McManus may also be represented by the Gordon Elliott-trained Cause Of Causes, who is seeking a third victory at The Festival in as many years, having taken the National Hunt Chase in 2015 and the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase in 2016.
First Lieutenant (Mouse Morris IRE) also boasts a fine record at The Festival with victory in the 2011 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle and second places in the 2012 RSA Novices’ Chase and the 2013 Ryanair Chase.
The 25 acceptors also includes Any Currency (Martin Keighley), who was first past the post 12 months ago but was subsequently disqualified, and French raider Urgent De Gregaine (Emmanuel Clayeux) will be aiming to follow up his 50/1 success in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase on Festival Trials Day.
French import Magie Du Ma (David Pipe, 11st 10lb), who has not raced since finishing second in a G3 hurdle at Auteuil in June, heads 37 confirmations for the G3 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Huntington winner Divin Bere (Nicky Henderson, 11st 9lb) and Long Call (Tony Martin IRE, 11st 5lb), an easy winner at Hereford in January, also remain engaged along with Dreamcatching (Paul Nicholls, 11st 1lb), who scored by seven lengths at Wincanton on 8th February, and recent Leopardstown G3 victor Dinaria Des Obeaux(Gordon Elliott IRE, 11st 9lb).
Willie Mullins has trimmed his contenders for the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper down to four, with Carter McKay, Mystic Theatre, Next Destination, Redhotfillypeppers set to try and provide the trainer with a remarkable ninth success in the championship contest.
Jessica Harrington sent out Cork All Star to victory in 2007 and the County Kildare handler has engaged Leopardstown winner Someday, while the famous Michael Tabor silks could be carried by West Coast Time (Joseph O’Brien), whose dam Refinement was a G1 winner over hurdles and runner-up in the 2004 Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
The home challenge looks set to be headed by Western Ryder (Warren Greatrex) andCause Toujours (Dan Skelton).