Favour And Fortune bravely fended off a whole host of rivals from title-chasing yards to claim victory in the Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle.

Alan King’s six-year-old swept past the Paul Nicholls-trained front-runner Rubaud but was then pressed hard by Bialystok, from the Willie Mullins Irish raiding party.

However, Favour And Fortune – who was sixth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – kept on finding more for jockey Tom Cannon and his willing spirit got its just reward, as he rallied to score by half a length at 5-1.

Bialystok was a touch unlucky in second, having been denied a clear passage after coming through to challenge at the final flight.

Cracking Rhapsody finished third, while Afadil was fourth for Nicholls and Dan Skelton’s L’Eau Du Sud plugged on for fifth.

L’Eau Du Sud was sent off favourite, having finished second in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, but he had been unfortunate to be penalised a total of 9lb for those runner-up efforts and that just took its toll.

Dan Skelton edged further ahead of Paul Nicholls in pursuit of Willie Mullins, as the battle for the jump trainers’ championship continues to look like it will go down to the final day of the season.

Skelton picked up a 113th victory of the season, with Doyen Quest winning the Kingston Stud Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, and then saw Nicholls’ Rare Middleton just headed close home in the concluding Cheltenham Pony Racing Authority Graduates Handicap Hurdle.

Skelton picked up a winning prize of £13,007.50 with that win and Nicholls now trails his former assistant by just under £80,000.

Mullins leads the title by around £50,000, with this weekend’s Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr and the season-ending Sandown fixture pivotal for the destination of the crown.

Doyen Quest was two lengths down heading to the final hurdle along the stand side rail, but shifted inside after clearing the obstacle.

Harry Skelton then kicked for home on the six-year-old and got up to land the race by half a length from Whatsupwithyou at 4-1, backing up his victory at Newbury from last month.

Nicholls’ Lallygag was prominent throughout but weakened after clearing the final hurdle, coming home 12th of the 15th finishers.

In Excelsis Deo justified favouritism at 3-1 to land the feature Matt Hampson Foundation Silver Trophy Handicap Chase for Harry Fry and Jonathan Burke.

The Nicholls-trained Il Ridoto was pulled up by Harry Cobden, while Skelton’s Sail Away and Our Jet both finished well down the field.

In Excelsis Deo gained two lengths on Hang In There and Scarface going over the final fence and galloped clear up the hill to win by four and three-quarter lengths.

Skelton’s Grade Two-winning Proschema returned after nearly a year off the track in the Safran Landing Systems Handicap Hurdle but finished out of the money down in eighth, as Zain Nights (9-2) took top honours for Lucy Wadham and Bryony Frost.

Nicholls clawed back some prize-money in the final race on the card, with Rare Middleton prominent throughout and having the beating of 13-8 favourite Our Champ up the run-in, only for the fast finishing 11-1 shot Tintintin to come up the rail to collar him on the line.

Skelton’s pair A Law Of Her Own and In This World finished out of the money, alongside Nicholls’ other runner Wild Max.

Caldwell Potter, who in February became the most expensive National Hunt horse ever sold at public auction after fetching €740,000, makes his eagerly-anticipated debut for Paul Nicholls in the Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle on Grand National day at Aintree.

Having impressed in Grade One company at Leopardstown over the Christmas period, the six-year-old was always going to be the star attraction among 29 lots to go under the hammer at the dispersal sale of prominent owners Andy and Gemma Brown at a Tattersalls Ireland sale at Fairyhouse.

Former trainer Gordon Elliott did his best to keep hold of the grey, but Caldwell Potter was eventually knocked down to bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley, who later confirmed he had been bought of an ownership group that includes Sir Alex Ferguson John Hales, Ged Mason and Peter Done.

With Nicholls soon ruling out an appearance at the Cheltenham Festival, the son of Martaline will head to Merseyside with high expectations as he looks to justify his price tag.

Chief among Caldwell Potter’s rivals is a former stablemate in Brighterdaysahead.

The five-year-old was considered by some as one of the bankers of the week in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, but had to make do with the silver medal behind Jeremy Scott’s Golden Ace.

Elliott is adamant Brighterdaysahead was not seen to best effect in the Cotswolds and is hoping compensation awaits.

“We were disappointed to see her beaten in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. It was a mess of a race, Jack (Kennedy) and Paul (Townend, riding Jade De Grugy) were riding to beat each other and let the winner get away on them. It was a mess,” Elliott told Attheraces.com.

“The longer trip is going to suit her well and hopefully she can get back on track. We’ve made no secret of the regard we hold her in.”

The Cullentra handler has a second string to his bow in Staffordshire Knot, who was sold at the same dispersal sale for €510,000 but remains in his care having been bought by Gigginstown House Stud.

The six-year-old has since been beaten at odds-in in a Grade Three at Thurles, but Elliott is expecting an improved performance at Aintree.

He added: “Staffordshire Knot didn’t jump well enough and found the track a bit sharp for him at Thurles last time. He’s a lot better than that and I’m hopeful of a good run.”

Willie Mullins saddles Jimmy Du Seuil and Ile Atlantique, second and third respectively behind Closutton star Ballyburn in the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Mahon’s Way (Henry de Bromhead), Esprit Du Potier (Lucinda Russell), Bugise Seagull (Charlie Longsdon) and Josh The Boss (Nigel Twiston-Davies) complete the field.

Bryony Frost showcased her ability to produce a winner on the big day as she triumphed in the Close Brothers Red Rum Chase at Aintree aboard Sans Bruit.

The 5-1 chance had been partnered by Frost in one of his three previous British starts and came into the race having yet to get off the mark in this country, with his light weight prompting trainer Paul Nicholls to give Frost the ride rather than stable jockey Harry Cobden.

The opportunity was grabbed with both hands and the horse was settled quickly into an even rhythm, jumping fluently all the way and gaining ground at every fence.

Turning for home he was at the head of affairs and just continued to pull away, jumping the last in isolation and crossing the line four lengths ahead of 9-2 favourite Saint Roi.

“Every race on the big stage is always going to hit where you want it to – the adrenalin, the focus and the positive nerves before,” Frost said after the win.

“The instructions were that if he was really keen to go out in front, then do what you do. The start was a bit of a muddle, but luckily he stayed really relaxed for it and I was able to get into a good position.

“I found a rhythm, we got in some really lovely breathers and when someone came to my girths, he picked up again and I thought ‘if you’ve got that much petrol, let’s start rolling’.”

By her own admission Frost has been frustrated by a lack of chances this season, a situation that has led her to consider the possibility of riding in France.

She added: “The opportunities come when they come, you’re thankful when they do and you try to make it happen.

“There is frustration, of course there is, you’ve got so much to offer, but you can only work with the opportunities that you’re getting and be thankful for the ones you get, whether they’re coming quickly or months apart.

“I’m buzzing we’ve got a big win. The crowd and the fans here are phenomenal, you feel the support and I feel it on the daily at the tracks when I’m riding.

“Parts of the season have been pushing more uphill, but you can’t sit down and cry about it, you’ve just got to get on and make the most of it when it comes.

“We’re not riding this Saturday and there is frustration, of course there is. You’re in the game to win and you want to ride and be out there. There’s nothing you can do about it, just keep working hard.”

On a possible French switch, she added: “You get a girls’ allowance out there, which is a huge advantage for me. It would be silly not to take advantage of that.

“You give me the ammunition, I’ll make it happen.”

Cheltenham Festival runner-up Its On The Line (3-1 favourite) went one better when landing the Randox Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase for Derek O’Connor.

The seven-year-old was kept out of trouble by O’Connor through the early stages before he delivered Emmet Mullins’ charge with a perfectly-timed challenge to score by four and a quarter lengths from the admirable Bennys King.

Mullins said: “He’s got ability and Derek is good and persistent on him and gets everything out of him. We were thankful for the loose horses today as it meant he had a bit of company and he was able to stretch out and go away, he’s done it well in the finish.

“He takes his races very well, last season he ran at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown so he has a great constitution. I think he’ll stay hunter chasing as it’s great to be able to come to these meetings and have a horse with a big chance. Fingers crossed he keeps doing the business.”

O’Connor added: “They went a ferocious gallop and he was a little bit off the bridle, but one thing he does is jump and he was jumping well all the way.

“We got a little bit of stick after Cheltenham, he lacks that bit of class to travel in a race but he leaves it all on the line every day and puts it all in when it comes down to it.

“Emmet’s a genius and it’s a privilege to put on these (JP McManus) colours every day.”

The closing Goffs Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race went the way of Ben Pauling’s Diva Luna (13-2), who made all the running under Kielan Woods.

“That was a great ride, she was good wasn’t she? She’s a nice horse,” said Pauling.

“He kept it very simple, we knew at Market Rasen that she had gears so the plan was to dictate and kick as late as we could. I think he knew he had plenty left.

“She won’t run again this season and she’ll go hurdling next season, she’s got a lot of class.”

Below The Radar could soon become a household name after enhancing his unbeaten record in the bet365 “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle at Uttoxeter.

Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old was picked up for €60,000 after two seconds in the pointing field, but he is yet to taste defeat under rules, supplementing a bumper victory at Chepstow with his second win over timber at the Staffordshire track on Saturday.

Sent off a 3-1 shot in the hands of Freddie Gingell, his proven stamina came to the fore in the testing ground, as even some untidy jumping was unable to stop him notching up a game two-length success.

“He had to be very tough and his jumping wasn’t quite there but he has done it easy enough in the end,” Gingell told Sky Sports Racing.

“He won a nice bumper at Chepstow and then went to Hereford and won a novice hurdle there and the form of that has turned out good.

“He’s won nicely here today and he’s a lovely horse. He probably isn’t the quickest in the world, he has just the one pace, and I think the ground probably suited him.”

There was a shock in the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Chase as Jonjo O’Neill’s Regal Blue put his best foot forward to score at 16-1.

Owned by one of O’Neill’s chief backers in Martin Tedham, the mount of Nick Schofield has proven rather hit or miss this season, but was on a going day as he relished testing conditions.

“He loved that ground and unraceable really suits him,” said O’Neill.

“He jumped away grand, Nick gave him a good spin and it all went well for a change.

“He’s really ground dependant and if he doesn’t like it, he just says ‘thank you very much, I have had enough’ – he’s a bit of a character, just like his owner!

“I thought he might have been beat at the last and in fairness to him, he battled away to the line and was going away again. I don’t think it is the trip that bothers him, it’s just the ground that is more important.”

Also relishing the heavy going was Gary Moore’s Jupiter Du Gite, who opened his fences account at the second attempt in the bet365 Handicap Chase.

A runner in graded company as a juvenile hurdler, the five-year-old was second on his chasing bow at Hereford in January and produced a fine round of jumping to oblige at odds of 11-2.

“He’s a tricky character but when things go right, he’s a very talented horse.” said jockey Niall Houlihan.

“I’m delighted for Alan Jamieson (owner), he’s had a few seconds and thirds recently, but to get Jupiter’s head in front will mean a lot to him.

“He’s a half-brother to Editeur Du Gite and he has lots of scope, but he still has to learn. At three out he was very brave but he was always going to get away with it.

“It was a pleasurable round of jumping and he got into a great rhythm and when it all works out for him, he’s a very talented horse.”

In a week when Irish trainers dominated proceedings at Cheltenham, it was no surprise to see the concluding bet365 Open National Hunt Flat Race go the way of John McConnell’s raider Lieutenant Mayne, with the 7-2 shot romping to a four-length success in the hands of Ben Harvey.

Dan Skelton will be giving it his all to win the trainers’ championship after adding to his brilliant Cheltenham Festival with winners at both Uttoxeter and Kempton on Saturday.

Fresh from being the standout British trainer in the Cotswolds, when saddling a career-best four winners over the four days, he edged ahead of Paul Nicholls in the trainers’ standings when keeping the ball rolling across the cards on Saturday.

However, he is predicting a tough battle to end his former Ditcheat boss’ stranglehold on the trophy and is hoping he has the right horses in reserve to run at the latter end of the season.

“I will give it a good go to win it and Paul will give it a good go to defend it and it will have to be worked for,” said Skelton.

“I will give it a go, but what I won’t be doing is running horses unnecessarily. Horses like the bumper horse, Royal Infantry, it’s correct for him to finish his season now, so I won’t be asking horses it is inappropriate to do so to come out. However, those that are, will.”

Skelton saddled a double at Uttoxeter thanks to the victories of Santos Blue and Gwennie May Boy, while Boombawn made a successful return from 302 days off the track in Kempton’s Read Nicky Henderson’s Exclusive Unibet Blog Handicap Hurdle.

The progressive seven-year-old was once again showing his love for Kempton having struck in Listed company at the Sunbury track in October 2022 and after travelling with real enthusiasm in the hands of Harry Skelton, the 13-2 chance dug deep to hold off the rallying Titan Discovery at the finish.

He told Racing TV: “We had him ready for the Silver Trophy at Chepstow in the autumn, but it was an unusually wet autumn and then we had him ready two weeks later for somewhere that went soft or heavy and in the end I just sent him home to one of his owners, Sarah Faulks, and she just gave him a week off at home and freshened him up.

“We got him back around Christmas time and he’s just been aching for this bit better ground. I know it’s not officially good today, but it’s a lot better (than it has been) and he’s entitled to be progressive – what you saw at Aintree (on his last start) showed you he was going in the right direction.

“He will have Aintree, Ayr and Sandown on the last day of the season on his agenda and we might even consider going over fences with him, depending on the time of year and if there are any races we can get him in.

“If it got to May and he was beyond the rating ceiling to get into a novice chase, we could even take him to France.”

Meanwhile, Skelton is hopeful his quartet of Festival winners will be a part of his arsenal for his title challenge after providing a positive update on their wellbeing.

“They are all really good. Langer Dan just has a little infection in a leg and all the other winners are good. Langer Dan is fine by the way, it is just something that is mentionable,” Skelton added.

“Grey Dawning will probably run (again) at three miles, Protektorat will have the option of two (races) and I would love to step Langer Dan up to Grade One company. Unexpected Party will have a heap of entries and we will see what’s best.”

Dan Skelton made no bones about Willie Mullins’ unquestionable Cheltenham dominance, but he took the Festival fight to his rival’s door with a thrilling Grade One double on day three.

Wednesday marked Mullins 100th overall success at the National Hunt spectacular, with Skelton admitting it is now less about the home team taking on Ireland and more about everyone trying to remain competitive with Team Mullins.

Recent years have marked a distinct lack of Festival success for British-trained runners, but Skelton is doing his level best to buck the trend, supplementing a day two double with Grade One glory courtesy of Grey Dawning in the Turners Novices’ Chase and Protektorat in the Ryanair Chase.

Grey Dawning had to repel the challenge of the Paul Nicholls-trained Ginny’s Destiny for his win, with Venetia Williams’ Djelo taking third for a rare British clean sweep, while Protektorat was too strong for Henry de Bromhead’s defending champion Envoi Allen over the near two-mile-five-furlong trip of the Ryanair.

Both were partnered by Skelton’s brother Harry, and the trainer could hardly contain his delight after a dual strike on the biggest stage of all.

He said: “This is the place you want to win and when you beat Paul, when you beat Willie, when you beat Nicky (Henderson) and Gordon (Elliott) and Henry, they’re legitimate victories. It’s hard to do and we enjoy doing it.

“It’s remarkable how things are going, I’m very proud of the whole team. This is what you plan to do, but it actually coming off is very, very different.”

A nightmare set of Festival results in 2021 saw just five victories for British trainers, but Skelton’s winners combined with Paul Nicholls’ win in the Pertemps Final with Monmiral and the Kim Bailey-trained Chianti Classico’s verdict in the Ultima on the opening day had ensured no repeat of that disappointment by the middle of the third day.

While Skelton has faith fortunes will turn again in British trainers’ favour eventually, he believes the hard work will be in catching the all-conquering Mullins squad.

He added: “It’s not easy, we’re not having things our own way (in Britain), maybe we were used to having things our own way for so long.

“This is a sport, people have supporters and as trainers we have owners. What we’ve got to do is knuckle down, we all are, and get stuck into it and it’ll turn. I’m not saying it will turn all the way back and it probably wouldn’t be a good thing to have such one-sidedness ever again.

“Willie by his own admission says he seeks competition and all of this England versus Ireland talk, I hate to break it to everyone but it’s everyone versus Willie, so we need a dose of reality on that as well.”

Grey Dawning continued Dan Skelton’s fabulous Cheltenham Festival with a brilliant victory in the Turners Novices’ Chase.

Paul Nicholls’ Ginny’s Destiny never missed a beat out in front as he attempted to repeat Stage Star’s victory in this race 12 months ago, but Grey Dawning was never far away in the hands of the trainer’s brother, Harry, and as they headed down hill it became clear it would be an all-British shoot-out up the famous hill.

The duo swung the bend locked in unison but having jumped two out matching strides, it was the 5-2 joint-favourite who edged to the front at the last and stayed on strongly to see Skelton oust his former Ditcheat boss and register his third triumph of the week at the showpiece meeting.

Venetia Williams’ Djelo came home in third to complete a one-two-three for the home team, with Zanahiyr the best of the Irish in fourth.

Paul Nicholls believes putting cheekpieces on Stay Away Fay for the first time could prove key to a second Cheltenham Festival success for his charge in Wednesday’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

The seven-year-old sprang something of a surprise when prevailing in last season’s Albert Bartlett as an 18-1 chance and has taken well to jumping fences this term.

He rallied gamely when scoring at Exeter in November and then stayed on strongly to get the better of the reopposing Giovinco at Grade Two level at Sandown over three miles.

Taking on open company in the Cotswold Chase at Prestbury Park on Trials day proved just too stiff a test, as Stay Away Fay finished third behind Capodanno and The Real Whacker, who famously landed this prize 12 months ago when edging out Gerri Colombe.

However, Nicholls was far from discouraged and is looking forward to taking on much-vaunted Irish raider Fact To File.

The Ditcheat handler said: “He’s in good form and will run in cheekpieces, they will sharpen him up a little bit and he’s in good shape.

“The Cotswold run was perfect (as a prep run), he ran very well and he’s much improved since then.

“I just probably wish it was on the New course, which is a bit stiffer, but I can’t complain.

“They seem to think the Irish horse will win every race he starts in from now onwards and obviously he is a very good horse and people who know what they are talking about seem to think he’s a very nice horse, so we will have to see on the day.”

Fact To File was second in last year’s Champion Bumper, after which Willie Mullins opted to bypass a stint over hurdles and send him straight to novice chasing.

He was outjumped by American Mike when second at Navan first time out this term but was much more fluent over the obstacles when trouncing Champion Hurdle third Zanahiyr at Leopardstown over Christmas.

That set up a fascinating match with Gaelic Warrior at the Dublin Racing Festival and Fact To File had already got the measure of his stablemate when Paul Townend was unseated by that sole rival at the final fence.

Mullins said: “Fact To File has done everything right. His speed figure at the Dublin Racing Festival was fantastic.

“Someone told me at Christmas that in his beginners’ chase he did a huge one, I’m into what I see visually and the way they do it, but the run at Christmas it transpired was right and he doubled down on it.”

American Mike followed up his triumph over Fact To File with a disappointing effort at Limerick but returned to winning ways when stepped up to three miles for the Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase back at Navan.

The seven-year-old was subsequently supplemented for this contest over the same trip and Gordon Elliott said: “We just thought it was the race to go for, so that’s where we’re going.

“He’s a good horse and we’re looking forward to running him. Obviously, Fact To File has gone the right way (since we beat him), but we’ll see how we go.”

Henry de Bromhead is hoping Monty’s Star can remain on an upward curve after he followed up a fair third behind Corbetts Cross at Fairyhouse with a convincing Punchestown victory.

“He’s in great form, he’s travelled over well and all is good,” said the trainer. “He won nicely in Punchestown and he’s progressing.”

Sandor Clegane was third behind Stay Away Fay in the Albert Bartlett last term and renews their rivalry after a couple of solid second-place finishes in graded company across the Irish Sea over fences, most recently when chasing home Embassy Gardens at Naas.

“He had a good run here last year and we’re hoping he’s in a better place,” said Paul Nolan.

“I think his last run, even though he was beaten a long way by Embassy Gardens, was a good run. He sort of went around on his own on the inside and we were delighted after schooling him last week. He took all his fences better and I think he’s a better horse than he has been all year.

“One of the best horses in Cheltenham this year seems to be Fact To File, Willie has spoken very highly of him and he’s going to be very hard to beat, but I think our fellow is there with a chance and I’m hoping we’ll be in the first three.”

Dual winner Flooring Porter, Grand National hero Noble Yeats and previous Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle victors Paisley Park and Sire Du Berlais are all set to line up in this year’s race.

Fergal O’Brien’s Long Walk winner Crambo, the Gordon Elliott-trained Teahupoo and the enigmatic duo of Asterion Forlonge and Champ have also been declared for what appears a fascinating renewal of the three-mile contest.

A total of 13 have been declared, with Willie Mullins’ Sir Gerhard another big player along with Dashel Drasher and Home By The Lee.

Janadil and Buddy One have also been declared.

Last year’s winner Envoi Allen leads 11 in the Ryanair Chase for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned 10-year-old has not run since November but has a habit of reserving his best for the Festival.

Paul Nicholls’ Stage Star needs to bounce back from a poor run on New Year’s Day but previously won the Paddy Power Chase under top weight. Stablemate Hitman also runs.

Dan Skelton’s Protektorat drops back in trip having had a crack at the Gold Cup for the last two years, Elliott runs Conflated and Fil Dor while Willie Mullins is represented by Capodanno.

The one horse who will not be suited by Tuesday’s rain is Joseph O’Brien’s Banbridge, who was a non-runner at the Festival last year when the ground went soft.

Ahoy Senor, Fugitif and the supplemented Ga Law make up the field.

The third Grade One on the card is the Turners Novices’ Chase in which an open field of 11 has been declared.

Ginny’s Destiny is gaining a reputation as a course specialist while Grey Dawning, Iroko and Gary Moore’s Le Patron all feature in a strong home team.

Facile Vega will be looking to redeem his reputation for Mullins who also runs Sharjah.

Elliott’s Brighterdaysahead carries plenty of stable confidence in the Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle where she will face the promising Jade De Grugy and Dysart Enos.

A full field of 24 will go to post in the Pertemps Network Final in which Farouk D’Alene is top weight.

There are 21 in the Trustatrader Plate, in which Jonjo O’Neill’s Crebilly is well fancied while Angels Dawn will bid for back-to-back wins in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase

Galopin Des Champs is one of 13 confirmations for the Boodles Gold Cup on Friday, as he seeks to defend his Cheltenham crown.

Willie Mullins’ star got the better of Bravemansgame last year, with the Paul Nicholls-trained runner-up on course to renew rivalry next week.

Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow is another leading contender for Ireland, having twice accounted for Galopin Des Champs since the Gold Cup, although he had to settle for second place in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Shishkin is all set for Nicky Henderson, who was left wondering what might have been when his former crack two-miler slipped on landing when leading in the King George VI Chase.

Bargain-buy Hewick swept home to win the Kempton showpiece on Boxing Day and has been kept fresh by Shark Hanlon.

Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe was second to Patrick Neville’s The Real Whacker in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase last season and they both feature, as does Gentlemansgame for Mouse Morris, who struck with War Of Attrition in 2006.

L’Homme Presse is right in contention for Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch, after a winning return from the sidelines at Lingfield and an encouraging prep over a trip short of his best in the Ascot Chase.

Deutsch said: “I’m looking forward to it. Although things weren’t suitable for him at Ascot – the distance and the way the race was run – he didn’t feel completely at his best that day and still did fine.

“I think his prep is all going well so far. I haven’t sat on him, but Jess who rides him at home knows him well and says he is going along OK.

“It’s nice to know he can do it at Cheltenham and over the distance and he will be suited by going back up in trip.

“It’s a Gold Cup, so that’s the unknown – you are going up against the best. I just hope he runs well and wherever he comes, he has run to his full potential.”

Monkfish is still in for Mullins, with Lucinda Russell being represented by Grand National hero Corach Rambler. Jungle Boogie and Nassalam complete the contenders.

Ahoy Senor, Conflated and Protektorat were the three withdrawals at the confirmation stage.

Kalif Du Berlais maintained his unbeaten record but he was made to pull out all the stops by Givemefive in the Coral Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton.

Trained by Paul Nicholls and part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, Kalif Du Berlais created a huge impression on his UK debut over the same course and distance and he was sent off the 10-11 favourite to follow up.

The Harry Derham-trained Givemefive had won each of his two starts though, and with Irish Derby fourth Peking Opera and the well-backed Captain Marvellous also running, it looked a deep race.

The two who fought it out pulled a long way clear, however, and it was the superior stamina of Kalif Du Berlais which saw him prevail by three-quarters of a length under Harry Cobden and meant the major golf champion, Graeme McDowell, had to settle for second with his horse.

“He took a bit of time to get going. We went an even gallop, I didn’t feel like we were going mad but I didn’t feel like he was going that easy jumping the last down the back and took a little bit of cajoling,” Cobden told ITV Racing.

“He jumped the second last well and winged the last. He’s still a big baby and was hanging up the run in, so there’s lots of improvement to come.

“He’s massive – he’s a big chasing type. I’d probably favour Aintree if it was left up to me but Paul knows what he’s doing.”

Nicholls said: “He’s shown he can tough it out, he’s given them all weight but whether we rode him right, I don’t know – I’ll see what Harry says.

“He’s very much a horse for the future and we’ll look after him at the minute, I’m thrilled with that.

“He’s had a hard race today, so I’d say he won’t run in the Triumph. Aintree is a possibility I suppose, if we’re happy, but if he didn’t run again (this season) it wouldn’t matter.

“As a chaser he’d be one of the most exciting prospects I’ve had for a long time, he’s got size and scope. To win three as a juvenile at his size is impressive.

“Harry is riding at the top of his game and let’s hope he can keep going until the end of the season like that.”

Derham may also look away from Cheltenham with Givemefive, who McDowell owns in partnership with multiple major winner Brooks Koepka.

“He’s run a brilliant race,” said Derham.

“Paul (O’Brien, jockey) and I spoke about it last night and the plan went perfectly and we just said if Cobden gets by us after the last, then so be it.

“I’m extremely proud of my horse’s run and he did everything right but just came second.

“Maybe (we’ll go to Cheltenham) but there’s a Grade Two at Fairyhouse two weeks later that makes appeal to me. There’s loads of options for him.

“I know that horse and he’s very genuine. I imagine he’ll be very tired and the lads can’t go to Cheltenham. There will be loads of very fresh and well-handicapped horses in the Fred Winter and he won’t be fresh and he won’t be well handicapped, so we might swerve that and go elsewhere.

“He’s a horse with a bright future and we’re looking forward to what’s to come.”

Paul Nicholls is relishing the prospect of taking on Cheltenham Gold Cup fancy L’Homme Presse with course regular Pic D’Orhy in the Betfair Ascot Chase.

The nine-year-old Grade One winner won the Noel Novices’ Chase at the Berkshire track in 2021 and was also the beneficiary of Shishkin refusing to start when claiming the 1965 Chase earlier in the season.

Second to a resurgent Shishkin in this Grade One event 12 months ago, Pic D’Orhy will now attempt to deal a blow to the Cheltenham Festival ambitions of not only L’Homme Presse, but also Ahoy Senor, who along with Dan Skelton’s Sail Away makes up the select quartet heading to post.

The champion trainer is full of respect for Venetia Williams’ Gold Cup hopeful and the way he has returned him from a long setback. But Nicholls believes there is still enough in Pic D’Orhy’s favour to be confident of a bold bid.

“It’s a good race with L’Homme Presse in the race and it will be interesting,” said Nicholls.

“He is a good horse and ran very well the other day at Lingfield off the back of a setback and they will be hoping he will carry on forward again. He’s a smart horse.

“However, he did only beat Protektorat and Protektorat couldn’t beat Hitman the other day in the Denman Chase so you could look at the form and think maybe he was flattered a bit at Lingfield.”

He went on: “It was an impressive performance from Venetia to get him back fit and well first time out and he did look very good, so we just have to hope we can find the chink in his armour.

“L’Homme Presse is obviously a smart horse and they are on the way to the Gold Cup. We’re doing a different route, but hopefully Pic D’Orhy will run a good race and hopefully he will run very well.”

Helping fuel Nicholls’ positivity is Pic D’Orhy’s performances this term, in particular his narrow second in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton, where he bumped into on-song Irish raider Banbridge.

The Ditcheat handler regards that Kempton display as one of his charge’s best-ever performances and he will now head to Ascot bidding to give Nicholls a record fifth win in a race he has won with the likes of Kauto Star and Cyrname in the past.

“It’s a good race and good horses win it and Pic D’Orhy is right up with those,” said Nicholls when comparing Pic D’Orhy to his previous champions.

“It would be nice to win it again, of course it would, and it would set him on his way to Aintree.

“He ran at Kempton sort of 35/36 days ago which is the same as last year and since then everything has gone good and he worked this morning and I was very happy with him.

“He’s produced two good runs (this season), he won at Ascot first time when he probably wasn’t at his best then and I would say it was nearly a career best last time giving nearly 3lb to Banbridge – that was a good run. He’s in good form and always runs to a really consistent level.”

Pic D’Orhy runs in the colours of one of Nicholls’ biggest backers, owner Johnny de la Hay, who as well as enjoying a plethora of proven stars, saw one of his brightest new recruits Teeshan excel on rules debut at Exeter recently.

The wide-margin point winner soared seven-lengths clear of the opposition, with that taking performance enough to see him cut to single-figure odds for the Champion Bumper with most firms, currently as low as 5-1 with Boylesports.

However, Nicholls is yet to commit to the Cheltenham Festival, and although Teeshan is poised to be given an entry for Prestbury Park, his trainer would have no issue with waiting an extra month for Aintree.

He said: “He won nicely, what sort of race it was I don’t know, but he cantered round and won nicely.

“I’ve won two other bumpers there this year season with Quebecois and Joyau Allen and I would argue they were just as impressive as he was.

“He had quite a reputation because he won his Irish point-to-point very well, but he couldn’t have made a better start than what he did the other day and I was very happy with him.”

Nicholls went on: “He will have an entry (for Cheltenham) and we ran Captain Teague in it last year. We will just see how he is.

“He took time to acclimatise and come right from when he came over from Ireland in the autumn and I just want to make sure he’s all right. If he doesn’t go to Cheltenham he will undoubtedly go to Aintree.”

Paul Nicholls praised the generosity of the racing community after the fundraising page set up in memory of Keagan Kirkby reached a figure in excess of £54,000.

Kirkby, 25, a point-to-point rider and popular member of Nicholls’ Ditcheat team, tragically died in an accident while riding at Charing point-to-point in Kent on February 4.

A JustGiving page was set up to help raise funds for Kirkby’s funeral and a memorial in his name, with an initial target of £5,000.

Thanks to the overwhelming support of those inside the racing industry and the wider racing public, the target has been widely exceeded, with whatever funds remain after the funeral set to be donated to charity.

“There is over £54,000 raised now for Keagan, which shows what high esteem he was held in,” said Nicholls.

“It shows how racing can pull together and everybody has supported it from all walks of life and it is just fantastic. It is fantastic what racing has done and it helps us get through what has been a difficult time.

“We can now give him a great send-off and I think his mum’s intention is that any money left over will go to any charities he felt close to.”

One significant donation came from Ditcheat owner Michael Geoghegan, who contributed the prize-money from his horse Fire Flyer’s recent Taunton success to the fund.

Fire Flyer was a horse ridden by Kirkby on a daily basis on the gallops, and the champion trainer pointed to that as a special moment as his team attempt to navigate a difficult time.

“It’s obviously a tragic time, but all the winners help in this situation, I think especially when Fire Flyer won at Taunton,” continued Nicholls.

“Keagan rode that horse every single day and for him to win down there was very poignant. It was a tribute to Keegan, and the whole team were on a high because that horse won for him really. Winners count and it makes life just a little bit easier.”

Keagan Kirkby, a point-to-point rider and highly valued member of the Paul Nicholls team at Ditcheat, has died following a fall at Charing point-to-point on Sunday.

The Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF) said the 25-year-old was riding at the meeting in Kent when his horse ran through the wing of a fence in the final race of the day.

A statement from the IJF read: “It is with deep sadness that we have to report that West Country point-to-point rider, Keagan Kirkby, 25, has died following a fall at Charing point-to-point in Kent today.

“His horse, trained locally, ran out through the wing of a fence on the second circuit of the final race. The on-course medical team attended immediately and despite additional support from a 999 Helicopter Emergency Services crew, he could not be saved.

“Keagan was a respected member of the Paul Nicholls team, who joined in 2019 and who had been awarded employee of the month in December 2021. He was shortlisted for the 2024 Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards in the Rider/Groom category.

“We kindly ask that everyone respects the privacy of Keagan’s family and the team at Paul Nicholls Racing at this tragic time.”

Paying tribute on his X (formerly Twitter) account, champion trainer Nicholls said: “Life is so hard sometimes, winners totally insignificant compared to what has happened today.

“Sadly Keagan Kirby, one of our best, hardworking lads, lost his life today riding in a point-to-point. All at team Ditcheat are mortified. Thoughts with all his friends and family.”

He added: “He was passionate about his job and his riding and rode Afadil every day. Last thing he said to me on Friday was ‘boss Afadil will win tomorrow’ (at Musselburgh). How right he was.

“RIP Keag we will all miss you terribly.”

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, said in a statement: “We are devastated to hear the tragic news regarding the fatal injuries sustained by Keagan Kirkby.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends, and everyone at the yard of Paul Nicholls. The entire racing industry will be in mourning at the loss of someone so young and with such potential.

“The esteem in which he was held is clear from the fact that he was nominated for the Rider/Groom category of the 2024 Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards, and made it through to the final 10 in his category. The nomination spoke of Keagan’s qualities as a thoughtful rider who develops a personal bond with his horses, understands their characters and adapts his riding accordingly, as well as his affable, helpful nature and popularity on the yard.

“We call on everyone to respect the privacy of Keagan’s family and the Paul Nicholls yard.”

Page 1 of 3
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.