Bailey keen for rain to stay away as Darna goes for Gold
In-form pair Kim Bailey and David Bass - the trainer-jockey combination who made it eight wins together from 18 races in 19 days when Abbreviate won easily at Southwell yesterday - are hoping the rain stays away from Cheltenham as they target Saturday's big chase for Darna.
The Paddy Power Gold Cup, for which there are 28 entries, has been the aim for Darna since he came back from his summer holidays. Last season, he gave Bass a first Festival winner and Bailey his first since Betty's Boy in 1999.
"He likes Cheltenham and he likes the trip, but we don't want too much rain," said Bailey, who has never won the Paddy Power. "At home, he is in great form; as well as he was when he won last March, and hopefully he'll stay that way."
David Pipe's Kings Palace has been at the head of the ante-post market for the race since betting opened and his regular rider, Tom Scudamore, is confident that he will be fit having been sidelined since injury his knee in a fall at Huntingon on October 13.
According to Pipe, the hopes to return to competitive action on Thursday ahead of the big meeting in the Cotswolds.
Boondooma, which shares favouritism at 7/1 with Kings Palace and is likely to be partnered by former champion conditional William Kennedy, carries high hopes for Dr Richard Newland who has a great record with improving horses bought at relatively modest prices.
The Grand National-winning trainer reported yesterday that his Irish import - which originally failed the vet when bought by a big yard after winning his maiden point-to-point - is in fine fettle and added that the eight-year-old had done nothing but improve since being sent chasing a year ago.
Although he has won over two-and-a-half miles over hurdles, his two wins over fences have been over two miles and he was a good winner at Cheltenham over that trip last time.
"He can be a bit exuberant and he does need to settle," said Newland. "But all his breeding suggests two-and-a-half miles is his trip. His brother is Rocky Creek, so it would be a surprise if he didn't stay."
The Irish challenge has been whittled down to just one contender, Shanpallas. Trained by Charles Byrnes and owned by JP McManus, the seven-year-old will be seeking redemption if he does run after having been brought down at Limerick last month.
Sprinter Sacre is one of 11 entries for Sunday's Shloer Chase at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson's former star two-mile chaser is reportedly in great form at home and his return is eagerly-awaited.
Sprinter Sacre's potential rivals include the Nicholls-trained Mr Mole, Michael Scudamore's Next Sensation, which also holds an entry in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, and recent Kelso scorer Simply Ned from Nicky Richards' yard. The only Irish-trained entrant is Willie Mullins' Twinlight, which was pulled up in the Fortria Chase at Navan on Sunday.
Henderson's Sign Of A Victory heads the weights after 26 horses stood their ground for Sunday's Cheltenham feature, the Greatwood Hurdle.
The six-year-old made a pleasing seasonal reappearance in a similarly competitive handicap at Ascot. The Seven Barrows handler could also call upon Days Of Heaven, which managed to win three times over hurdles last season but has not been seen since disappointing at Aintree in April.
Philip Hobbs has saddled four previous winners of the Greatwood in Rooster Booster (2002), Detroit City (2006), Menorah (2010) and last year's victor Garde La Victoire and his only potential representative this time is Rock The Kasbah, which finished runner-up in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow last month.
John Ferguson has a formidable hand with recent course winner Devilment, Three Kingdoms, ante-post favourite Nabucco and Vancouverite all on the list. Old Guard and Bouvreuil are listed for the Nicholls team.
There is a strong Irish contingent, with the all-conquering Willie Mullins leaving in Renneti, Daneking and Noble Inn. Noel Meade's Waxies Dargle and the Tony Martin-trained Redera are the other potential raiders.