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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Five horses out to boost their festival claims at Cheltenham this weekend

Coneygree: could return to the scene of his greatest triumph on Saturday
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Cheltenham stages its final meeting before March on Saturday with Festival Trials Day providing a last chance to get some track experience.

Below we pick out some of the horses that will be trying to press their claims for the four-day spectacular.

Apple's Shakira
JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (12.40)

There are no entries to be seen yet as the race has reopened but Nicky Henderson has already confirmed the talented Apple's Shakira has been engaged.

At the moment, the JP McManus-owned filly is Henderson's number one Triumph Hurdle candidate - no mean feat given his yard also houses Coral Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle winner We Have A Dream.

Apple's Shakira has recorded two easy wins at Cheltenham so far and a hat-trick in a race that has been won by two of the last three Triumph Hurdle winners, McManus's Defi Du Seuil and the Henderson-trained Peace And Co, will consolidate her place as the one to beat in March.

Apple's Shakira: has recorded two easy wins at Cheltenham

Betbright Trial Cotswold Chase (2.25)

Cheltenham is the scene of Coneygree's greatest triumph, and it would be another heart-warming jump racing tale if he was to return to winning ways on Saturday.

The 11-year-old has failed to complete in two outings this season, but has his first run back at Cheltenham since his heroic 2015 Gold Cup success.

Claimantakinforgan: unbeaten over hurdles

Ballymore Classic Novices' Hurdle (3.00)

One of three runners for Nicky Henderson to choose from for this race, Claimantakinforgan is one of the leading contenders for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and is unbeaten in two starts this season.

He missed the Tolworth Hurdle because the ground was considered too testing and with Henderson having mentioned a race at Musselburgh next month, this may be a speculative entry.

Nevertheless on his last visit to Prestbury Park, the six-year-old finished third in the Champion Bumper and this could be a good opportunity to press his claims for the festival.

Beer Goggles keeps up the gallop to score in style at Newbury

Beer Goggles Cleeve Hurdle (3.35)

The build-up to the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury centred around Thistlecrack's return, but instead it was 40-1 Beer Goggles who stole the headlines with a fantastic victory from the front.

So was it a one-off or can he do it again? The seven-year-old has not experienced Cheltenham before, and if he does not take to it, then it is likely Aintree, rather than a return in March, will be his next target.

Finian's Oscar: set for switch back to hurdles

Finian's Oscar Cleeve Hurdle (3.35)

Not the race many would have expected for Finian's Oscar earlier in the season when he made an accomplished start to novice chasing with wins at Chepstow and Cheltenham.

But defeats in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Chase at Sandown and in a Grade 2 at Ascot have led to a rethink, which has resulted in a return to hurdles for a tilt at the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.

On last season's form he has the quality, having won the Grade 1 Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree before going down by a short-head in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

However, he tackles a new trip as he tries to rebuild a reputation that was boosted by a sequence of four hurdle wins in a row at the start of his career.

Cheltenham Saturday card 

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