Watering move a plus for Quito
Cheltenham ground staff began watering the track yesterday in an attempt to prevent conditions drying out ahead of the start of the Festival that gets under way on Tuesday.
Earlier weather forecasts had prompted the Prestbury Park team, led by clerk of the course Simon Claisse, to report on Monday that watering was unlikely to be necessary before the four-day extravaganza began.
However, the amount of rain predicted to fall in the area over the next few days has been revised from between 12-15mm to a maximum of 5mm. That led Claisse to initiate watering proceedings on the Old Course, which is used on the opening two days, with 4mm applied on ground that had officially been given as good to soft, good in places.
The decision is likely to be welcomed by many Irish trainers, who are due to send horses that appreciate a cut in the ground, and it will certainly enhance the prospect of the Colm Murphy-trained Quito De La Roque lining out in Wednesday's RSA Chase.
Murphy stated the dual Grade Two-winning novice would not travel if conditions came up quick, as the full six-day entries were revealed for day two.
The other Irish contenders among 16 left in the RSA are Bostons Angel, Mikael D'Haguenet, Quel Esprit, Jessies Dream and Magnanimity.
Murphy, who announced that his star mare Voler La Vedette would be retired to the breeding shed at the end of the season, also has the reigning two-mile champion Big Zeb in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday. Just 11 horses stood their ground for the prestigious Grade One, with Sizing Europe, Golden Silver and Captain Cee Bee the other Irish entrants.
There were few surprises in the withdrawals for any of the seven races on Wednesday, a day that sees Irish-trained horses hold favouritism in five events.
Having trailed the former champion Master Minded in the market in recent months, Big Zeb yesterday joined Paul Nicholls' charge at the head of most lists and is outright favourite with some firms, Victor Chandler taking the least chance at 5/2.
Alfa Beat continues to be the punters' preference in the National Hunt Chase, while So Young is now challenging Oscars Well at the head of affairs in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle. So Young's trainer Willie Mullins is also responsible for the hugely popular Call The Police in the Coral Cup, a race that Silverhand was scratched from yesterday.
Silverhand carries the colours of JP McManus for Noel Meade, and has been successful in his last three hurdling starts. He is expected to take his chance in the County Hurdle on Friday instead.
One that has been ruled out of the Festival completely is Our Girl Salley. Prunella Dobbs' mare is unbeaten in her last five outings and had been among Wednesday's acceptors for next Tuesday's mares' race, but a poor scope means she will now miss that engagement.
Meanwhile, Ruby Walsh has confirmed he will be back in action at Sandown tomorrow following a nasty-looking fall at Naas on Wednesday. The jockey crashed out at the last flight in the maiden hurdle when challenging on King Of The Refs, bringing down Paul Townend on Boro Bee in the process.
While Townend walked away unscathed, Walsh, who had only just returned from a four-month lay-off with a broken leg, received a cut to his right eye. The wound required two stitches, with Walsh admitting yesterday: "It could have been a lot worse."