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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Five important Cheltenham developments during the last week

Maria's Benefit: made it five wins in a row at Doncaster
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1. It's too soon to give up on Douvan and Faugheen

Hope spring eternal, especially at this time of year, and having resigned ourselves to potentially watching a Cheltenham Festival without superstars Douvan and Faugheen it seems all is not yet lost.

Faugheen, who inexplicably pulled up on his most recent run at Christmas, could well return in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at the weekend, while Douvan remains in with an outside chance of running in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Owner Rich Ricci said of Douvan: "Everything has to go right. We've been here before. I'm hopeful he makes the festival but he can't afford any setbacks. At the moment it's all systems go."

Should they make it to Cheltenham, both are likely to be ridden by Ruby Walsh, who is getting nearer to a comeback himself with a return from injury on the cards next month if all continues to go to plan.

2. Mares' Novices' Hurdle set for a high-class showdown

It might not be the most obvious race to be getting giddy about six weeks before the festival, but the Grade 2 Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle looks like it could produce one of the clashes of the week.

In what could be a classic Anglo-Irish head-to-head, Maria’s Benefit and Laurina stepped clear of their rivals in the betting for the third-day contest with contrasting wins at Doncaster and Fairyhouse.

Maria’s Benefit made it five wins in a row in her gung-ho, give-it-all-she's-got style from the front in the Grade 2 Yorkshire Rose Hurdle to lead the British hopes for a first win in the race.

However, she has been usurped at the head of the market by Laurina, who oozed class when capturing the Grade 3 Solerina Mares Hurdle for Willie Mullins. This one could be a cracker.

3. Definitly Red adds northern soul to Gold Cup picture

One in and one out for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup after Definitly Red’s victory in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.

Trainer Brian Ellison, owner Phil Martin and jockey Danny Cook have their eyes on the Gold Cup, and Ellison confirmed his admiration for the nine-year-old when he said: "You've got to have a good horse to come here and this is probably the best horse I've ever trained.”

Definitly Red: smart chaser heads for the Gold Cup next

However, the Gold Cup seems almost certain to take place without Bristol De Mai this year after the grey produced another performance well below his Betfair Chase demolition.

Anthony Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said: "We came here hopeful, but he doesn't look a Gold Cup horse on that running.”

4. RSA next for perfect Percy after slick hurdles success

The Gold Cup may be where we see Presenting Percy in the future, but his next port of call will be the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He warmed up for the Grade 1 with an excellent performance when returned to hurdles in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran on Thursday, asserting in the straight to stamp his class on a deep field.

"We went back hurdling to save the horse a bit for Cheltenham. But he was very, very good there,” said owner Philip Reynolds, who watched his pride and joy win the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival last year.

“He has to step up again now and the RSA Chase looks made for him.”

5. Wind operation for Brain Power

Nicky Henderson has wasted no time in tinkering with Brain Power after his fall in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, sending the talented runner for a wind operation.

All roads now lead to the Racing Post Arkle for Brain Power, who is a best-priced 16-1 for the Grade 1 at the Cheltenham Festival with Betfair and Coral.

Sceau Royal: got the job done well at Doncaster

He could face two formidable opponents carrying the double green of owners Munir and Souede though, with Sceau Royal boosting his credentials for the race with an excellent performance when winning the Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster.

Footpad already heads the Racing Post Arkle betting for the ownership duo, with Betfair offering the longest odds of 6-4.

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Everything has to go right. We have been here before
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