Edwulf is my main chance - O'Brien
Edwulf could go for either the RSA Chase or National Hunt Chase, with no major preference, trainer Joseph O'Brien said yesterday.
Speaking at a BoyleSports-sponsored yard visit, the 23-year-old trainer admitted that he is hoping to book Derek O'Connor if the horse goes for the four-mile race, but he believes that he has the pace to tackle the Grade One RSA Chase, for which Might Bite heads the wagering.
O'Brien will likely have four or five runners at the Festival and Edwulf's revised rating of 152, which he achieved after bolting up at Naas on Sunday, means that he has a major chance of winning the National Hunt Chase in theory. Ivanovich Gorbatov got a rating of 150 yesterday, while Landofhopeandglory, Zig Zag and West Coast Time may also be on the ticket.
"Edwulf had disappointed us previously," O'Brien told the Irish Independent, "but it was nice to see him come back, do what we had expected him to do earlier in the year. He jumped very well and it was a great performance.
"The ground will have a little question-mark. I've no particular preference race-wise: he travels very well and won over two-and-a-half at Naas so he has plenty of pace for the RSA; you would think he'd find things go very easily over four.
"Derek could possibly ride. He has huge experience, knows the track and the horse; he'd be a top-class man if we could get him. The horse would have a good chance in whatever race."
West Coast Time, second to Weatherbys Champion Bumper favourite Carter McKay at Naas, is 50-50 to run.
"I hope he's better than that form as they went very slow then sprinted. I'd like to think he'd be able to be with Carter McKay at the furlong marker one day and we could see what happens then. He'd have to have an each-way chance."
Ivanovich Gorbatov, last year's Triumph winner which has County Hurdle and Coral Cup entries, yesterday was allotted 150. "We were a little disappointed in him the last day. A fast pace and better ground will suit and there's no reason he shouldn't run a good race. His mark is what it is."
O'Brien has Landofhopeandglory for the JCB Triumph Hurdle or Fred Winter, the likely target for Zig Zag. "Landofhopeandglory would have an each-way chance; he was running very well all year and there's no reason he can't be in the first three."
There is some doubt about Presenting Percy, prominent in the Pertemps betting, running in the race after he was given a rating of 146.
Connections' concerns he may not get in went out the window when he scooted in at Fairyhouse on Saturday. He has paid the price with a rating that is 6lb higher than in Ireland.
Pat Kelly trains the horse for Philip Reynolds, the pair having teamed up to win last year's edition with Mall Dini, and Reynolds said: "Running over three miles with top weight or thereabouts is a lot to ask for a novice."
British senior handicapper Phil Smith defended his position yesterday in a statement released alongside weights for the Festival handicaps.
"In response to a disproportionately high success rate of Irish runners in British handicaps - which reached as high as 18pc in 2004/'05 compared to a British strike rate of 9.5pc - it was agreed that the British handicappers should keep performance figures for Irish Jump races," Smith said.
"This is in no way a comment on our colleagues in Ireland. It is purely for consistency purposes: handicapping will always be subjective and it makes sense for every runner in handicaps in Britain to be assessed by British handicappers using identical methodology.
"Since switching approaches the strike rate of British and Irish runners have levelled out with the Irish strike-rate remaining marginally higher.
"The handicappers are confident that based on these figures there is no semblance of any anti-Irish bias and that keeping our own Irish performance figures has given our handicaps greater equality and fairness."
Charli Parcs is on course for the JCB Triumph Hurdle despite his fall at Kempton, says Nicky Henderson, who has confirmed the RSA Chase as Whisper's likely Festival target.
Meanwhile, Alan King is keen to firm up what rider is booked in the absence of injured Barry Geraghty for Stan James Champion Hurdle hope Yanworth. "I don't know who is going to ride him and we need to speak at the weekend, as we do need to find out."