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Cheltenham Festival: Paul Nicholls' World bid with super Saphir

By Jon Freeman

Owner Andy Stewart and trainer Paul Nicholls have been at great pains to point out that Saphir Du Rheu is no Big Buck's, despite some similarities in his profile at the same age, and horses like the four-time World Hurdle winner come around once in a lifetime.

But that is not to say the young aspirant is not up to winning a World Hurdle himself.

Saphir Du Rheu (3.20), like Big Buck's, has reverted to hurdles following a short, clumsy spell over fences and demonstrated the stamina and fighting qualities that will be required this afternoon with a narrow triumph over reliable yardstick Reve De Sivola at Cheltenham in January.

In the Ryanair Chase, Don Cossack has been favourite ever since completing a four-timer at Thurles in January, but this is another head-scratcher, with Balder Succes, Ma Filleule and Foxrock all hitting top form at the right time.

The largely forgotten horse, at 16-1, is Nicky Richards' northern challenger Eduard (2.40), but this lightly raced improver should be taken seriously.

As a novice, he came good with a sequence of wins last spring and served notice there is a good race in him when running Gold Cup contender Many Clouds close on his Carlisle return, before finishing runner-up in Huntingdon's Peterborough Chase.

The opening JLT Chase might well fall to Willie Mullins, but with which horse?

The sky was supposed to be the limit for Vautour when he won over hurdles at last year's Festival, but he put up a sloppy display over fences at Leopardstown on Boxing Day.

Valseur Lido (1.30) was not as good as his stablemate over hurdles, but is a superb jumper of fences and that attribute will stand him in good stead against Apache Stronghold, who beat him narrowly last month.

Philip Hobbs won last year's Pertemps Hurdle Final with Fingal Bay and seems to have another ideal candidate in Big Easy, who confirmed that stamina is very much his strong suit when landing the Cesarewitch on the Flat at Newmarket last autumn.

Sybarite, who invariably finishes strongest of all, though usually too late, and Pineau De Re - winner of the 2013 Ulster Grand National at Downpatrick - a close third in the race 12 months ago en route to Aintree Grand National victory, are outsiders worth a second look, but the tough and consistent Big Easy (2.05) is the one to beat.

Un Ace (4.00) has Ulster great Tony McCoy in the saddle and trainer Kim Bailey has been telling everyone who would listen that his runner has a big chance this week, as long as the rain stays away.

Masters Hill (4.40) used to be a bit hit and miss, but with maturity has come consistency and he looks ready for the finale following a decisive Exeter win.

Belfast Telegraph


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