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Downpatrick to stage a special day with Arkle sparkle

By Ron McKnight

Downpatrick stages a race meeting with a difference today, and one which will have a very strong Cheltenham flavour with the Festival coming under starters orders on Tuesday.

There will be a free display of Arkle memorabilia, courtesy of Nick O'Toole, while many closely associated with the great horse will be in attendance.

Former top jockey Willie Robinson, who rode 1963 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Mill House prior to Arkle making the race his own and recording a hat-trick (1964-1966).

Robinson was also aboard Laffy in 1962 when the horse registered a memorable victory in the Ulster Grand National at the course for the Queen Mother during her visit to the province.

James, trained locally by Ian Ferguson, can prove a banker in the Arkle Years Hunter Chase following third place at Down Royal behind the top class pair Oscar Barton and On The Fringe - the later a major fancy to land next week's Cheltenham Foxhunters.

Court Frontier, trained by Alan Fleming for owner Barry Connell who has numerous horses destined for the Festival, looks the danger having been just denied last time, while Illusion Of Time completed a hat-trick in point to points last weekend at Armagh.

Hot On Her Heels and Alberta dominate the concluding bumper. The former is trained by Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins - who will have approximately 50 runners at the Cheltenham Festival - and is partnered by his son Patrick.

The Mullins runner just gets the vote, receiving the filly's weight allowance.

The first race appears wide open with little solid form and the Mags Mullins-trained Burton Hall gets a tentative each way vote.

Ballymena trainer Ian Ferguson is doubly represented with Areema possibly the pick while Perseid won a Sedgefield bumper for Ballyclare trainer Ben Arthey.

The Noel Meade-trained Definite Trouble could have place prospects.

Akorakor, trained by Gordon Elliott for Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, looks the likely favourite.

Barry Geraghty is a notable booking in the EBF Mares Hurdle for the Elliott-trained Antilope Du Seuil. But Emcon looks the one to beat.

The Irish Jockeys Association, with Ruby Walsh as chairman, sponsors the Novice Handicap Hurdle in recognition of vast improvements for riders at the local course - especially the superb catering facilities now available.

Jumptoconclusions and Indian Rupee make most appeal and the former - Geraghty in the saddle on the JP McManus horse - gets the selection.

Ardmillan, trained near Larne by Stuart Crawford who intends running the horse in the Toals Ulster National later this month, can claim the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase.

Brian Hayes travels over for several mounts and partners Halls Bridge for trainer Shane Ryder, the danger to Ardmillan.

TODAY'S DOWNPATRICK TIPS: 2.20 Burton Hall 2.50 Antilope Du Seuil 3.20 Jumptoconclusions 3.50 Pass The Ball 4.20 Ardmillan 4.50 James 5.20 Hot On Her Heels

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