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Jimmy Nesbitt ready to take on Sir Alex Ferguson

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.

Belfast Telegraph