Jimmy Nesbitt is hoping that the famous red and white colours of Manchester United can inspire Riverside Theatre to victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s What A Friend in the AON Chase at Newbury tomorrow.
The top Ulster actor’s horse, runner-up to Long Run in last month’s King George VI Chase in which Kauto Star finished third, has been installed as the 10-11 favourite with the United manager’s What A Friend the chief threat at 6-4.
Red Devils fanatic Nesbitt explained: “My god-daughter designed the colours — the red and white of United.”
He added: “It all began to fall into place to call him Riverside Theatre, the place in Coleraine where I made my acting debut.”
A total of eight horses will contest the Newbury feature race, which has often provided its share of drama for Festival contenders being fine-tuned for Cheltenham.
As drama goes, the events of 12 months ago were right up there with the best.
Denman started long odds-on favourite for the race with Ulsterman Tony McCoy having his first ride on the former Gold Cup winner.
However, things didn’t go according to plan and Denman clouted the third-last, dumping McCoy.
Paul Nicholls’ Tricky Trickster went on to beat Niche Market by a short-head.
Riverside Theatre, trained by Nicky Henderson, has been gaining confidence over fences this season, particularly when stepping up in trip.
The AON looks a perfect race for him, given that he is rated 6lb clear of the Nicholls-trained What A Friend.
Nicholls has also entered Noland and both Ditcheat horses will be on recovery missions after disappointing on their latest appearance.
Riverside Theatre is currently 10-1 for the Cheltenham Festival’s Ryanair Chase, which will be over two miles and five furlongs, but that price would be greatly reduced if he were to win impressively tomorrow.
On a big day of racing at Newbury, McCoy will attempt to ride Get Me Out Of Here — denied by Menorah in the Supreme Novices — to victory in the totesport Trophy.
That particular partnership won the same race 12 months ago.