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Silviniaco can strike gold in the Festival showpiece

By Ron McKnight

The classy Silviniaco Conti headlines the 15 remaining horses in the running to contest the Down Royal Festival showcase JNWine.com Champion Chase on Saturday.

But Paul Nicholls' stable star faces tough competition from Michael O'Leary and his Gigginstown operation, who have collected the prize four times in the past five years and will be aiming to continue their fine record with seven confirmed entries.

County Meath trainer Gordon Elliott, who has won two of the last three renewals of the £140,000 showpiece, has six still engaged.

Elliott is keen to run Don Poli - who came home third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season - but requires a bit of rainfall in the build-up, and the same applies to the JP McManus-owned Gilgambao, according to trainer Enda Bolger.

Silviniaco Conti - a dual winner of the King George VI Chase - has been made 7/4 ante post favourite to supply a fifth victory for the Ditcheat-based champion trainer, while The Last Samuri and O'Faolains Boy are other British entries to stand their ground with final declarations on Friday.

Monksland and Realt Mor are a locally owned pair in the Grade 1 chase.

The O'Leary horses again dominate the supporting feature, the Grade 2 Titanic Novice Chase.

The Ryanair boss owns seven of the 13 entries while Elliott is responsible for five of those engaged.

Champion trainer Willie Mullins has the top-class Avant Tout, winner of his final two starts last term, entered and only Lord Scoundrel is rated higher, while British Champion trainer Nicholls has Le Mercurey engaged.

Monksland, as expected, will be at the double with Shadow Catcher and Celtic Thunder another locally owned pair.

The feature hurdle on Saturday, the Billecart-Salmon Handicap Hurdle, always proves ultra competitive and 23 are engaged with McManus owning five of the entries, while Elliott's lightly-raced Campeador - who won a juvenile hurdle in France prior to his purchase and finished fourth to Apple's Jade in a Grade 2 - is due to carry top weight.

Larne trainer Stuart Crawford has a trio engaged in the bumper with Noel Meade and Elliott also having multiple entries.

The opening Value Cabs three-year-old hurdle has produced some notable winners in previous runnings with Missy Tata winning last year before filling fourth at Cheltenham, while the locally owned Guitar Pete provided the Sloan family of Templepatrick with a subsequent Aintree Festival winner having finished third in the 2014 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Joseph O'Brien, Elliott and Tony Martin - the latter denied by a nose in the Melbourne Cup yesterday - all have multiple entries.

Meanwhile, Gigginstown's retained jockey Bryan Cooper will not make his planned return to the saddle at Down Royal this weekend. The top-class rider has been out of action since early October after fracturing his right arm.

Cooper said: "I am disappointed to report that I won't be riding at the Down Royal Festival this week - my comeback has been put on hold.

"I had been targeting the two-day Grade One meeting for my return, but I went to see the doctor and he was not sufficiently happy with how my fractured right arm has healed for me to resume race-riding just yet.

"Of course, it is disappointing but there is no point in rushing these things."

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