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Jezki disappoints but McManus could still be mighty at Cheltenham

JP McManus: has several decent Cheltenham Festival contenders
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1. Cue Card could strike a blow for old guard

Not since What A Myth in 1969 has a horse older than ten won the Gold Cup, but Cue Card served notice he can still be a player at the age of 11 with his Ascot Chase stroll.

Last year's effort, which was ended by a fall at the third-last fence, looked like being the veteran's best chance of winning the Timico-backed prize, especially with the subsequent emergence of stablemates Thistlecrack and Native River this season.

However, Cue Card looked as good as ever when taking apart the field at Ascot, and there would not be a more popular winner. Imagine the reception if he crosses the line in front next month.

2. Vieux Lion Rouge is roaring to Grand National

There were two lions on show in Haydock's Grand National Trial, and it was David Pipe's runner who triumphed.

He was in receipt of 6lb from topweight Blaklion, and both pulled a long way clear of the a decent field.

Vieux Lion Rouge won the Becher Chase earlier in the season, and he look a big player for Aintree in April, but don't discount Blaklion either.

3. What to do with Jezki?

The Stan James Champion Hurdle and Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle both looked realistic targets for Jezki before Gowran on Saturday, but defeat to Tombstone has left more questions than answers.

Although the heavy ground would not have been to his liking, this was a race Jezki should have won and it was no surprise to see him drift for both festival events.

The nine-year-old has a good record at Cheltenham, but he will need to be at back to his best, and has less than a month to get there.

4. McManus holds strong Cheltenham hand

Much has been made of Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci enduring a difficult period, but there has been far less talk about owner JP McManus's Cheltenham Festival prospects.

McManus has the favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle with Unowhatimeanharry, the JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite Defi Du Seuil and two of the front three in the Champion Hurdle market.

Buveur D'Air heads the betting, but Yanworth strengthened his case with a battling victory in the Kingwell Hurdle. Trainer Alan King said the seven-year-old was only at 90 per cent after a minor setback a couple of weeks back, but the extra ten per cent could make a big difference in March.

5. Has Harry Fry got another improver for Cheltenham?

Unowhatimeanharry's rise through the ranks has been one of the most impressive training feats of the last 12 months, and Harry Fry could have another improver in Air Horse One.

Beaten in two handicaps at Cheltenham earlier in the season, the six-year-old has since completed a hat-trick, winning a maiden and novice hurdle before taking a valuable handicap at Ascot.

Victory over some useful types, including Lanzarote runner-up Templeross, suggests Air Horse One is improving rapidly and he could be a player in whichever race he ends up in at Cheltenham.

Much has been made of Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci enduring a difficult period, but there has been far less talk about owner JP McManus's Cheltenham Festival prospects
E.W. Terms