Saturday finale back on cards at Cheltenham
This could be the penultimate year of the traditional Tuesday start to Cheltenham.
The idea of a Saturday climax to the festival, previously deadbatted by the organisers, was given fresh momentum yesterday when managing director Edward Gillespie indicated it was "very possible in 2012".
Gillespie ascribes the development to Racing For Change, a new project undertaken by British racing's top brass. "Saturday is not an option while we have to buy our way into it by acquiring someone else's fixture. It makes no business sense simply to make another course rich. But we're aware that the opportunity may now arise through Racing For Change opening up the fixture process.
"I wouldn't say we're under pressure to do it but I do feel there is an appetite for festival Saturdays. The earliest it could happen is 2012 and it's not inevitable even then. We haven't begun any consultations but we'd be competing with the Premier League and international rugby, so we'd need to be sure-footed."
Gillespie, who dismissed all thought of a five-day festival, revealed that Friday is currently "twice as profitable as any of the other three days", casting doubt on whether the Gold Cup would be moved to a Saturday. "Opinions are divided on that one," he said.
Last year's winner Quevega is as low as even-money favourite for the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham after heading the 31 entries for the race on the opening day of the festival. Willie Mullins' six-year-old turned in one of the most impressive performances of last year's festival but has been off the track since disappointing in May.
The six-year-old is one of 11 Irish-trained entries, along with stablemates J'y Vole and Morning Supreme, and Colm Murphy's Voler La Vedette, which is unbeaten in four starts.
The English team includes a quartet from Nicky Henderson's stable in Carole's Legacy, Here Comes Sally, My Petra and Stravinsky Dance. However, Henderson's well-fancied Candy Creek will not run as she has been retired to stud. Donald McCain won the inaugural running of the event in 2008 with the recently-retired Whiteoak and could bid for another success in the Grade Two event with Alegralil.
Meanwhile, Tipperary trainer Tom Hogan is favouring the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham for his smart mare Premier Victory.
Hogan has also entered her in the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham festival as a precaution but is most likely wait until the Friday, unless wet weather intervenes. Premier Victory won two Grade Three novice races in November before finishing second to Western Leader in last week's Michael Purcell Memorial Hurdle at Thurles.
"Her target is the Albert Bartlett, where she will get 7lb from the geldings," said Hogan. "She needs good to soft ground to be at her best and her last run was her first for three months. She is also in the Pertemps but she would only go for that if there was a bad forecast at Cheltenham."
Hogan also has Silver Jaro, which took the 2008 County Hurdle at 50/1, entered at the festival, while Nina Carberry is to ride Hogan's Shannon Spirit in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
Edward O'Grady has confirmed Sunday's impressive Leopardstown winner Shot From The Hip as an intended runner. Making his first appearance since a successful debut in September, the six-year-old surged clear under JP Magnier before kicking away again when challenged. "If he improves, which he should do, I think he'll run a very solid race on the day," O'Grady stated.
Irish-trained raiders have won 14 of the 17 runnings of the bumper and account for 17 of the 38 entries. Willie Mullins -- who has trained six previous winners -- can choose from Bishopsfurze, Day Of A Lifetime, Lios A Choill and Up Ou That.
Dermot Weld, who saddled Rite Of Passage to finish third last year, could run leading fancies Elegant Concorde and Hidden Universe, the likely mount of leading Flat jockey Pat Smullen.
Six-time British champion Flat rider Kieren Fallon is set to partner Old McDonald for trainer Noel Glynn.
Paul Nicholls has the choice of new purchases in the colours of John Hales in Al Ferof and Don't Turn Bach.
The Nicholls-trained Taranis, a 20/1 chance for the Gold Cup, has had a setback and will miss the race. The nine-year-old has also been scratched from the Aintree Grand National.
Also among yesterday's 13 scratchings from the Aintree showpiece were the Mullins-trained trio of Irish Invader, Beroni and Jayo, while other horses which will be not lining up are Charlie Swan's One Cool Cookie, Parsons Legacy and Royal County Star.