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Cheltenham Festival 2016: Marito heads up Ulster's Festival glory bid

By Frank Brownlow

Marito leads the charge for Ulster glory at the Cheltenham Festival on Gold Cup day, while Legacy Gold is tipped as an each-way chance on opening Champion Hurdle day.

Marito, trained in Crossgar by Colin McBratney, is a 7-1 shot for the Foxhunters, which takes place immediately after the Gold Cup on Friday.

Legacy Gold is a big outsider in tomorrow's Mares Hurdle - straight after the feature race - in which Vroum Vroum Mag is the hot favourite.

But Legacy Gold's trainer Stuart Crawford, who had a winner at Ayr on Saturday with Billy Billy, is confident the eight-year-old can make an impact.

"Hopefully she will put up a good show. It's a tough race but she's in good form and has plenty of ability," said Crawford, who runs a successful yard just outside Larne.

"Legacy Gold is a good mare. Winning at the Cheltenham Festival is a big ask."

Legacy Gold was second behind Champion Hurdle favourite Annie Power in a three-horse race at Punchestown last month.

"It was a useful run-out," added Crawford, who has two other potential runners at Cheltenham.

Fine Rightly is pencilled in for the Ryanair Chase, while Danielle's Journey is in the Dawn Run Novices Hurdle, both on Thursday.

With the ground drying out at Cheltenham, Fine Rightly may be re-routed to Down Royal's big St Patrick's Day meeting.

The conditions appear more suited to Danielle's Journey, whose odds were last night cut from 66-1 to 40-1.

Danielle's Journey is named in honour of a blog by Danielle McGriskin, a 19 year old from Ballinderry who is battling a brain tumour.

Danielle's Journey is owned by the locally-based Realta Racing syndicate.

"The club learned through social media of the story of Danielle McGriskin who had been diagnosed with a stage two brain tumour and hydrocephalus," said a Realta spokesman.

"For Realta, having a horse like Danielle's Journey is a dream come true.

"Danielle's Journey has brought us success and Realta are delighted to confirm that she will be a runner at the greatest event in National Hunt racing.

"The mare will run in the Dawn Run Mares Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival on St Patrick's Day, exactly a year to the day of her first win."

Danielle's Journey goes to Cheltenham off the back of a win at Ayr last month, and trainer Crawford said: "It's always been the plan to run Danielles Journey (at Cheltenham). The drier the better for her.

"Fine Rightly is a classy horse too. He has shown he can compete in Grade One company.

"I would expect a big race if conditions are suitable. He likes a bit of dig in the ground. The ground seems to be drying out so that wouldn't suit. He could go to Down Royal on Thursday instead."

Crawford sees Gold Cup hopeful Don Cossack as the potential star of the Festival.

"It's the most intriguing Gold Cup for a number of years," he said.

"Don Cossack is a horse I really like. He could light up the Festival if things fall into place for him."

Crawford had considered including Southsea Island in his Cheltenham squad but has now been earmarked for Aintree's Grand National meeting next month, along with Chitu, while Baby Bach - a winner at Carlisle on Thursday - may go to Ayr's Scottish National meeting.

Glenavy trainer Neil Mulholland, now based near Bath, is going to the Festival with a strong band of contenders, with Shantou Village his star performer.

Shantou Village is joint second favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle on Friday behind 11-4 shot Barters Hill.

"If it's dry on both days we're probably looking towards the Albert Bartlett, but if it's dry on the Wednesday and looks like it might be softer on Friday, we'll run in the Neptune," explained Mulholland.

"If we get a wet Cheltenham, we'll miss it altogether and wait for Aintree."

Belfast Telegraph


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