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In brief: Esprit set to bypass RSA

Connections of Quel Esprit are weighing up a change of plan to go for the four-mile National Hunt Chase, instead of the RSA Chase, in the light of the son of Saint Des Saints' fall at Leopardstown two weeks ago. The four-mile event is an amateur riders' race and so it may be that Patrick Mullins could take the ride, although Some Target is also another fancied Willie Mullins horse for that race.

Meanwhile, despite making a really impressive debut over fences at Huntingdon on Thursday, which had all bookmakers running for cover after the race, it's looking increasingly likely that Starluck could miss the Arkle.

Connections were of the opinion that the two-mile novice championship race could just come too soon for the son of Key Of Luck, which has a rating of 160 over hurdles.

Trainer Alan Fleming may opt to go for Aintree instead of Cheltenham, with perhaps the option of taking in a race at Sandown in between.

Dawn targets big Cup bonus

Nicky Henderson's unbeaten Aegean Dawn, which is the 10/1 favourite with the majority of firms for the Coral Cup, could also go for the Imperial Cup at Sandown on the Saturday before the Festival.

The highly promising son of Alflora has progressed from a mark of 114 to 145 from just two runs this season, and if he were to win at Sandown he could be in line for a massive bonus prize were he to go on and win any race at the Festival. As well as the two-mile-five-furlong Coral Cup, Aegean Dawn also has the option of going for the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle over two miles.

Cross dilemma for McCain

Donald McCain has said he hasn't even begun to think who could replace the banned Jason Maguire on Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle, and will not start seeking a replacement until the jockey's seven-day suspension appeal is heard.

Maguire was given a seven-day ban for excessive whip use and for 'leaving a mark' on Cool Mission at Doncaster on Wednesday, a horse which is ironically owned by the same owner as Peddlers Cross. If the appeal is unsuccessful, an obvious replacement would be Galway native Graham Lee, who has ridden winners for the connections before and is also no stranger to Cheltenham success.

Home team on Bumper surge

This year's Champion Bumper market has a rather unfamiliar look so far, as the top of it is dominated by the home team. Traditionally, Irish-trained horses have farmed this race, with 14 winners out of 18 runnings, but there are question marks over the main Irish hopes this season.

The Willie Mullins pair of Samain and Lovethehigherlaw have arguably been the most impressive bumper winners on this side of the water this season, but both are rated doubtful to show up at Prestbury Park in two weeks' time, due to other preferred engagements. Warren Greatrex's Knight Pass remains the favourite with the majority of firms, with the Nicky Henderson pair of Mono Man and Ericht also prominent in the betting.

Silver lining up for Champion

Willie Mullins had toyed with the idea of sending Golden Silver to the Ryanair Chase if the ground came up 'lively', but he now looks certain to let nine-year-old gelding take his chance in the Champion Chase.

The son of Mansonnien has put in a string of impressive performances over the past two seasons but goes to Cheltenham with something to prove having finished tailed off on his two previous visits to Prestbury Park.

Oscar goes to two-mile tilt

Nicky Henderson looks set to let Oscar Whisky take his chance in the Champion Hurdle, instead of going for the World Hurdle. The six-year-old son of Oscar has looked impressive on both of his two starts this season, prompting quotes to come in for him for the Festival three-mile championship event. But he looks like lining up for the Tuesday centrepiece event now and he would be a lively outsider against the big four.


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