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Fegan eyes memorable Festival bow

By Ron McKnight

Keady-based trainer Paddy Fegan will experience the Cheltenham Festival for the first ever time today when Melbourne Lady runs in the Grade 1 OLBG Mares Hurdle.

The local handler has only four horses in training. Melbourne Lady, however - already a dual winner - has been tackling the best of company.

The mare has mixed chasing and hurdles and finished third to the mighty Annie Power on her last start at Punchestown.

Fegan, who arrived at Prestbury Park at the weekend, said: "It's my first time here and I'm still taking it all in. The mare has settled in well and I'm happy with her preparation. She's been running well in Grade 2s and 3s at home and I feel she's entitled to take her chance.

"The ground won't be a worry as she's won on heavy and firm going. We know it's a big jump in class and the best mares are running in the race. It would be great if we could grab a place but we're here for the craic."

Melbourne Lady is owned by Joseph Robb from Crossmaglen and was bred by his brother.

The local runner will be partnered in today's big race by Matty Bowes - now living and working in Armagh. He has ridden Melbourne Lady in all of her recent races.

Bowes said: "I was only here once before to lead up a horse in the World Hurdle. It's unbelievable to get a ride in a Grade 1 on the first day of the Festival.

"This is what jump jockeys dream of. It's the pinnacle of national hunt racing. The mare has always been ridden forward and I'll probably do the same in the race."

Meanwhile, top Banbridge-based amateur rider Steven Clements has been booked by trainer Mags Mullins to partner Ballychorus in the four-mile marathon for amateur riders today.

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