Ferguson backs Angel to fly in Festival opener
Cullybackey trainer Ian Ferguson is looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival and has a vested interest in the opener tomorrow.
The local trainer negotiated the purchase of Angel's Breath for current connections after seeing the horse win on his debut in a point to point at Moira in April last year.
Ferguson said: "I liked what I saw on the day - he travelled very well through the race before asserting before the last and won easily. The stiffer test at Cheltenham hill should suit him."
Angel's Breath won on his debut for trainer Nicky Henderson at Ascot prior to finishing runner up at Kempton and the top trainer has echoed the views of Ferguson that Cheltenham will suit the horse much better than Kempton.
The trainer also won the race in 2016 with the mighty Altior - long odds on favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Friday saw stable jockey Nico De Boinville commit to riding Angel's Breath rather than Henderson's other runner, Mister Fisher, in the Supreme Novice Hurdle and his price cut to 5/1.
The Moira point to point winner is owned by Dai Walters who developed Ffos Las Racecourse prior to its sale to the ARC Group and Ronnie Bartlett, the latter a long-time supporter of local racing.
Bartlett also has the unbeaten Galvin to represent him this week with options of the Ballymore Novice Hurdle or the owner's sponsored Albert Bartlett Hurdle. Galvin has won all his five starts since being sent by Ferguson to trainer Gordon Elliott and could develop into a worthy replacement for the owner's ill-fated top chaser Simonsig.
Walters is in the fortunate position of not only owning the very talented Angel's Breath but also Al Dancer, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies which is favourite for the festival's opening race.
Irish Champion trainer Willie Mullins has the best record in the festival opener, having won it five times, and has Klassical Dream and Aramon engaged in tomorrow's renewal with Ruby Walsh opting for the former while seeking to add to his current tally of 58 festival winners.
Elsewhere, Ballyward has had the National Hunt Chase as his target for some time. The Willie Mullins trained horse will be partnered by the champion trainer's son, Patrick.
The horse is another product of Wilson Dennison's renowned Templepatrick nursery and was sold after finishing runner-up in a Tyrella point to point in 2016 and later finished fourth last year at the Festival in the Grade 1 Bartlett Novice Hurdle.
A trio of local riders have been engaged to ride in the race. Banbridge's Mark O'Hare, a dual Northern Region Champion, has been booked by Nicky Henderson for Chef Des Obeaux, Cabra's Noel McParlan takes the ride on Mulchays Hill for Warren Greatrex while Downpatrick amateur Declan Lavery will be aboard the JP McManus owned Jerrys Back, trained by Philip Hobbs.
Slate House was a £260,000 purchase from the Dennison nursery after winning a point to point for Ian Ferguson but needs to up his game for trainer Colin Tizzard in the Arkle Chase.
The Willie Mullins pair, Sharjah and Melon, both ran in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal Festival - the former finishing third on his seasonal debut and the latter winning in 2017. However Ruby Walsh opts for the third Mullins runner Laurina in tomorrow's Champion Hurdle feature but dual winner Buveur D'air will be hard to beat.
The Gordon Elliott trained Cubomania opened his account in a claiming riders hurdle race at Down Royal, improving significantly, and has Davy Russell in the saddle in the Close Brothers Chase.