The Cheltenham Festival trail: Coral Cup an option for weekend winner
The countdown is well and truly on to the biggest week of the racing year and there are just eight days to go until the 2023 Cheltenham Festival.
Bonus on offer for Benson
Benson could target the Coral Cup in pursuit of a £100,000 bonus at the Cheltenham Festival after victory at Kelso on Saturday.
The eight-year-old pounced late to deliver a telling blow for local handler Sandy Thomson in the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle.
Heading into the contest on the back of a clear-cut victory at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day, Benson was sent off at odds of 11/1 to reward those who follow the Lambden-based handler at his local track.
Kept quiet in rear by jockey Ryan Mania as Irish raider Wajaaha set some hot fractions, he was smuggled into the contest and loomed large as the Lorna Fowler-trained Colonel Mustard hit the front and set for home after two out.
Mania was still to produce Benson as Colonel Mustard’s stride began to shorten jumping the last, but he soon edged past the game Irish challenger with the winning post approaching and the victory was arguably worth more than the official verdict of two lengths.
Surely he'll have a crack at the £100,000 bonus by trying to win at The Cheltenham Festival now. pic.twitter.com/mUh4JO4ZAy
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 4, 2023
Victory now offers connections the chance to add an extra £100,000 to the pot if able to add to this victory at Prestbury Park later this month.
However, Thomson is willing to bide his time before naming Benson’s Cheltenham Festival assignment.
He said: “The great thing is he has only been out of his box for about four hours, which can make a great difference when you are thinking of going again and we will obviously have to go. You have got to try – how good he is, nobody actually knows.
“I’ve got to speak to the owners and chat about it. He will get into the Coral Cup now – on 134 he was perhaps on the brink and what weight he has and what Ryan can do could influence it. Ryan obviously struggles a bit with his weight, but if he gets 10st 9lb or 10st 10lb hopefully he would be able to do that.”
Support for Champion Bumper contender
Ireland have dominated the Champion Bumper in recent years, and they could continue their grip this year with plenty of support for A Dream To Share.
Coral’s John Hill said: “A Dream To Share has won all three of his races this season, and following some strong support in our Champion Bumper betting, he is now much closer to market leader It’s For Me.”
Jockey needed for Lord Accord
Neil Mulholland is still pondering who will ride Lord Accord at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.
Though the eight-year-old holds an entry in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup, he is expected to line up in the Ultima Handicap Chase on day one of the four-day meeting, for which he is a 12/1 chance with Coral.
Regular partner Richie McLernon is ruled out after suffering a broken leg and knee damage, sustained when Mulholland’s Crossing The Bar was brought down in a handicap hurdle at Doncaster in January.
A winner at the home of jumps racing – could @richiemclernon ask for a better birthday present really? 🥳
— Coral (@Coral) October 22, 2022
The trainer is still sizing up options for Lord Accord, who won a Cheltenham handicap in October and was runner-up to Frodon in the Badger Beer Handicap Chase at Wincanton the following month.
He said: “We’ve booked nobody yet. I have to speak to the owners and see.
“Unfortunately, Richie McLernon is injured. I think he is hoping to be back for Aintree, but the horse is in good order and we’re very happy with him.”
Chatham Street Lad ruled out
Chatham Street Lad will not line up in the St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and has been ruled out for the season after suffering from lymphangitis.
As an eight-year-old, the Michael Winters-trained gelding was a 15-length winner over the ill-fated Midnight Shadow in the 2020 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham and was subsequently fourth to Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival meeting that season.
But he sustained a nasty cut when third to A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase at Haydock 16 months ago which sidelined him until December, when he reappeared in a point-to-point.
The Vivian Healy-owned Chatham Street Lad won a three-mile point on New Year’s Day, but his latest problem – severe swelling of the lower leg – came to light after he was well held in a subsequent point early last month.
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