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Bless The Wings revels once more in Cheltenham cross-country test

Bless The Wings saw off the Enda Bolger threat to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase for Gordon Elliott.

He may turn 13 in a few weeks and have been pulled up in his two previous races, but the winner comes to life at this unique track.

Placed in all five of his prior appearances in the Cotswolds - six if including the Fulke Walywn over regulation fences in 2015 - Davy Russell always had the 12-1 chance close to the pace, which was set by the Bolger-trained My Hometown.

Kingswell Theatre, a winner in November, briefly took over, but Russell kicked on when the field arrived on the racecourse proper and he was always holding Bolger's pair of Cantlow and Josies Orders by two and a half lengths and four.

The big disappointment was 2014 Stayers' Hurdle winner More Of That, who was pulled up.

Elliott said: "He's been placed in three Cheltenham Festivals for us and has been a great horse.

"He was disappointing on his last couple of runs and I was actually thinking of retiring him, so it just goes to show what those jumps can do to a horse.

"I'm delighted for his owners and Davy gave him a great ride."

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Nicky Henderson has Apple's Shakira ripe for Triumph trial at Cheltenham

All eyes will be on Apple's Shakira at Cheltenham on Saturday as the full sister to Apple's Jade defends her unbeaten record in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle.

The Nicky Henderson-trained filly made an instant impact on her first start since leaving Emmanuel Clayeux's stable in France when bolting up by 17 lengths from the smart Gumball on this course last month.

That performance shot her to the head of the Triumph betting at the Festival in March and the next step is this four-runner heat, won 12 months ago by Defi Du Seuil, who went on to glory in the juvenile championship in March while Apple's Jade was second in 2015.

Henderson said: "She is in good form and was very impressive the first day.

"She wasn't showing anything at home before that. It looks like she has sharpened up a fair bit since that.

"I'd like to think she has possibly come on for that. I was surprised how good she was first time as I didn't know how fit she would be."

Apple's Shakira is owned by JP McManus, whose racing manager Frank Berry said: "It wasn't a surprise she won first time as Nicky was very happy with her going there.

"We were hoping she'd put up a nice show and she did - she was impressive on the day. At this stage we don't know what that form is worth, but she looked good.

"I suppose now she has a bit to live up to, but all you can hope is that she performs to her best and see how we go from there."

Sire De Grugy bids to return to form in the Junior Jumpers Handicap Chase.

The 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase hero might not be quite the force he once was but he has slipped down the ratings and trainer Gary Moore is expecting a good show from the 11-year-old.

Moore said: "He should get the soft ground he likes this time and he's in good form at home - that's why we're running him.

"He's in good heart and I'm very pleased with the way he is at home. Hopefully he can give him a good account of himself."

Sire De Grugy has to give upwards of 14lb to his seven rivals that include Kerry Lee's talented pair Gino Trail and Grey Gold.

Colin Tizzard is happy to step Kilbricken Storm up to three miles in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.

The six-year-old got off the mark over two miles over hurdles at Wincanton last month but was a winner over three miles in a point-to-point.

"They have given him a high mark of 137," said the Dorset trainer.

"When we started off we put him in two-mile races, as, although he won a point-to-point, we thought we would start at two and get him handicapped, but he turned out to be a little bit better than we thought.

"If he can carry that pace through over three miles that will be ideal, but it looks a very competitive race.

"All the jockeys have said he would be better over three as he is not very fast, but he has been fast enough to win over two.

"It is the right race at Cheltenham."

Neil Mulholland is hoping Kalondra can keep up his good work in the Ryman Novices' Chase.

The six-year-old made a successful debut over fences at Sedgefield in October and was not disgraced when second to Modus in a three-horse affair at Wincanton five weeks ago.

Mulholland said: "He's run well this season so far. Hopefully he'll run well again and be competitive.

"Fingers crossed, it's a good opportunity for him."

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Colin Tizzard planning three more runs and then retirement for Cue Card

Colin Tizzard expects Cue Card to have just three more runs before heading into retirement, with the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day looking increasingly unlikely.

He was in the frame for the Christmas showpiece earlier in the week and was briefly considered for the rearranged Peterborough Chase.

However, following talks with owner Jean Bishop, Tizzard is now leaning towards the Ascot Grade One he won in February last year.

"We probably won't run Cue Card in the King George. Talking to Jean Bishop, we will just mind him. The King George is red hot," said Tizzard.

"We considered going to Taunton, but we decided not to. He had a hard old race at Haydock (second to Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase).

"We just want to have three runs in the spring, then retire him. I think that's what we will do."

He added: "We will go to the Ascot Chase, then either the Ryanair or Gold Cup and then on to Aintree.

"Then I will have him as my hunter."

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Paul Nicholls ponders Kempton mission for Politologue

Tingle Creek winner Politologue will be given an entry in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton as Paul Nicholls considers an alternative route towards the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The Ditcheat handler had been inclined to aim the grey at the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January, but the John Hales-owned six-year-old could instead return to the fray over the festive period.

He told his Betfair blog: ''Politologue has come out of his race at Sandown in such good form I am considering running him at Kempton on December 27.

"Originally I planned to keep him for the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January ahead of his main target for the season the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

"But after talking to his owner John Hales I am going to enter him in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton where we feel he would have a very good chance of winning.

"Then he could have a little break before a warm up for Cheltenham in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.

"That is a route we have taken successfully with several of our best two-milers.

"We were thrilled by the way Politologue travelled and jumped on his way to winning the Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday.

"He is such an exciting young chaser, still improving and we hope the best is still to come.

"We now have two possible routes for Cheltenham with him and will make up our minds over the next week or so if he goes to Kempton."

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Sam Twiston-Davies thrilled to be back in the saddle for The New One

Sam Twiston-Davies paid the staff at the Injured Jockeys Fund's Oaksey House a huge debt of thanks after being given the all-clear to ride The New One in the Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The jump jockey admitted he was losing the race against time to make his comeback on one of his favourite horses after breaking his elbow in a fall from Double Ross at Sandown on November 12.

However, the tide turned in the past week thanks to the tireless work behind the scenes, enabling him to ride out the last couple of days and finally get the go-ahead on Friday lunchtime.

"In all honesty I can't really describe how I feel. I rode out this morning and felt really good, but I went to Oaksey House a little bit nervous," said Twiston-Davies.

"I wanted to get Dr (Jerry) Hill (British Horseracing Authority chief medical adviser) to look at the case and he was happy for me to ride.

"Emma Edwards (physiotherapist) has worked tirelessly with me and without her I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now. I owe a lot to her.

"Rob Treviss (fitness coach) has worked me hard in the gym as well.

"I was always trying to comeback for this, it looked like it wasn't going to happen, but in the last week Emma has worked really hard with me and luckily dreams come true."

Twiston-Davies has partnered The New One to two of his three wins in this race, in 2013 and 2014. Richard Johnson was in the saddle when successful 12 months ago and was set to be this time until Twiston-Davies was declared fit.

"It's a dream to be riding The New One. It's his fourth International," he said.

"He's a great ride. He's got the heart of a lion and he tries tremendously hard. He's got an excellent record in the race. You can't set it up. It's just a dream to be riding him."

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Cheltenham winner Western Ryder 'getting better and better'

Western Ryder made it back-to-back wins after claiming victory in the British Stallion Studs EBF "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Having unseated on his first start over hurdles at Stratford, the Warren Greatrex-trained 5-2 shot followed up his success at Chepstow when mastering Grade Two bumper winner Lalor by two lengths in the two-mile-one-furlong contest.

Greatrex said: "It was not a great start to his hurdling career, but he is getting better and better. He was very slick there, although he got in a bit close to the last.

"He is a smart horse and like Richard Johnson said, two miles on this sort of ground is fine but in the spring I'm looking at going two and a half as he stays very well.

"The Sidney Banks (at Huntingdon) is a possibility, but whether I save him to go and two and a half when I come back here I don't know."

Sizing Tennessee put two non-completions behind him in staying on in dour fashion to take the Horse Comes First Novices' Chase.

After parting company with Bryan Cooper on his last two starts, the Gold Cup-winning rider galvanised the Colin Tizzard-trained nine-year-old to his first victory of the season, finding plenty to hold off Duel At Dawn by six lengths.

Tizzard said of the 2-1 winner: "We never thought he had an issue with his jumping until he fell this year. The horse lost his nerve a bit after his first fall and he was a bit guessy today.

"He has got a big, powerful engine. He has got that big, long stride and he will be good on spring ground."

He added: "We will probably run him a couple more times and he could be an RSA horse or a National Hunt Chase horse - those are the two races you would look at."

Smaoineamh Alainn (7-1) continued her upward curve when completing a hat-trick with victory in the Catesby Handicap Hurdle.

The five-year-old made it three from three since being switched to hurdles, putting in a smooth round of jumping before defeating Remiluc by two lengths.

Winning trainer Robert Walford said: "She has always shown us lots at home so we thought we would have a go and see what happens.

"She is a beautiful filly and James Best gave her a great ride. He was as cool as you like.

"The most important race of the season for her is a fillies' Listed race at Doncaster in February. If she gets black type, that is great."

Ms Parfois (9-2) opened her account over fences in the CF Roberts Electrical & Mechanical Services Mares' Handicap Chase.

The Anthony Honeyball-trained six-year-old built on her debut third over fences at Uttoxeter when wearing down long-time leader Theatre Territory late on before obliging by a length under Noel Fehily.

The Beaminster handler said: "She did well over hurdles and she did surprise us how well she did.

"Noel Fehily was in toppish gear all the way round. Her jumping was super and it was nice to have something to aim at. We always thought chasing would be her game.

"I suppose with the mares' programme we will just keep looking around. It sounds lofty, but she might squeak into a Welsh National another year if she progresses."

Robinsfirth (7-4) stayed on determinedly to win the Unicoin Group Handicap Chase.

Only five lined up for the valuable prize and those who did take their chance will have been delighted at a great chance of winning a nice pot.

In the end it was Tizzard's eight-year-old, who was given quotes for the Grand National post-race, who proved once again that stamina is his forte. He jumped nicely throughout for Robbie Power before taking up the running in the straight.

Shanroe Santos was a two-length second and a mistake at the penultimate fence put paid to any chance he may have had.

Tizzard said: "He's always had a huge amount of talent, I think he's reached his powers in life.

"When he was in deep for a big horse he was neat and tidy, he extended well and is a good horse.

"For a Cheltenham race and for the money it was the best chance he's ever going to get here, especially when the favourite came out earlier.

"I wanted to run him in the Welsh National, but the owners didn't want to go this year so we took him out.

"They are so happy, I mentioned the National but they both said no!."

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Nigel Twiston-Davies and 'Ginge Army' out to make a Splash at Cheltenham

There are likely to be more scenes of wild celebration in the Cheltenham winner's enclosure if Splash Of Ginge can achieve a notable double in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.

Owner John Neild and the rest of the self-proclaimed 'Ginge Army' were dancing in the rain at Prestbury Park last month after the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained nine-year-old ploughed through the mud to spring a 25-1 surprise in the BetVictor Gold Cup.

Top-class performer Exotic Dancer was the last horse to win both major prizes in the same season 11 years ago, and Neild believes his pride and joy can repeat the feat.

He said: "We're always optimistic, but if the ground is soft or worse I really think he's got a great chance. They've had snow on the track and there's more frost coming, so you'd think it won't be any better than soft.

"There are only 11 runners and seven of them ran in the race last month. Anything can happen in racing with fallers and what have you, but our horse has won three times over fences and they've all been at Cheltenham, two being in big handicaps.

"He was travelling like the winner in this race three years ago when he fell and he then went back to Cheltenham on New Year's Day and won off a mark of 145. Even after going up 5lb for winning last time he's now rated 139. I thought 5lb was very fair.

"People have called him a lot of names, saying he's in and out and things like that. He can spring a surprise, but if the opportunity is there he'll make the most of it."

While his focus is very much on the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, proud Liverpudlian Neild already has one eye on a potential tilt at the Grand National in April.

Born just around the corner from Aintree, Neild used to play football between the famous fences as a child and admits it would be beyond his wildest dreams to have a runner in the race.

He added: "If he wins on Saturday or runs well and goes up another three or four pounds, I think that will make our decision to aim for the National.

"I've said all along he'll only run if the ground is soft, but I have no worries about his stamina - he'll stay all day.

"In a drunken state I had £1,000 on at 1000-1 for him to win the National, so it would be incredible to get him there."

Paul Nicholls saddled the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner for a record fourth time when Frodon prevailed 12 months ago and is triple-handed.

Clan Des Obeaux will have to defy the welter burden of 11st 12lb, but was seriously impressive on his latest appearance at Haydock.

The multiple champion trainer also sends into battle BetVictor third and fifth Le Prezien and Romain De Senam.

Nicholls said: "Clan Des Obeaux loves it soft and was impressive the last day. He is a five-year-old with 11st 12lb, which is not easy, but he has improved for a wind operation and running in small fields the last twice has helped his confidence. He is in good shape.

"Romain De Senam does not want it too soft, but that track has not been watered so it will be different ground to the last meeting. I've often found that horses that have run ordinary races at the first meeting have gone well in the second one on the different track.

"Le Prezien is in good form and we just need him to jump better.

"All three are in good form and all three will run tidily, I would say. Clan Des Obeaux is probably the better one of the three, long term, but they are all nice horses."

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Naas looking likely to be next stop for exciting Samcro

Samcro could be seen next in the Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas in January after being a notable absentee from Sunday's Navan Novice Hurdle.

Gordon Elliott's unbeaten five-year-old has created a huge impression in two starts over hurdles this season, most recently in the Monksfield Novice Hurdle.

His next race is likely to be at the highest level, at either Naas or possibly Leopardstown.

"He will go to Naas in the first week in January for the Lawlor's Grade One hurdle," said Elliott.

"We entered him (this weekend) to keep our options open, but the plan was to go to Naas.

"To be honest, he has done everything well, but he has to keep improving. He has lot of improvement to do, which we hope he does.

"He is a good horse. I'm very lucky, I've got a lot of good horses."

Speaking earlier in the day, Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, raised the chance Samcro could run at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting in preference to Naas.

He said: "He might run at Christmas (Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle)."

Elliott and Gigginstown still run three in the Grade Two contest this weekend - Cracking Smart, Poli Roi and Delta Work.

Willie Mullins calls on the smart Next Destination, Jessica Harrington fields Jetz and Noel Meade is represented by Half The Odds.

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Mister Don delights Rose Dobbin as plan comes together at Doncaster

Rose Dobbin has the Edinburgh National as a possible early target in 2018 for Mister Don after the seven-year-old ended a luckless spell in the footballacca.tips 'Confined' Handicap Chase at Doncaster.

Mister Don had been second five times and third three times in 11 starts since winning at the South Yorkshire track 13 months ago, and it was a return to Town Moor that saw a change in his fortunes.

Dobbin used Mister Don's blank spell to pinpoint this three-and-a quarter mile race and it paid off as the 11-2 shot outstayed Alvarado by four-and-a-half lengths under Craig Nicol.

"I'm chuffed. We spotted the race a while ago and it's quite nice when a plan comes off," said the Alnwick handler.

"He's been very consistent but he'd had a bit of seconditis. It was a perfect race for him because it was for horses that hadn't won since last November, so we're very happy.

"He wants decent ground as he's by Presenting and he needs a long-distance race.

"It's got to be a stiff, three-mile plus race for him. Having said that, he's run well round Market Rasen and Muselburgh.

"There's a four-mile chase at Musselburgh in February. We'll have a look at that.

"He loves Doncaster and he jumped great today. He's a fine horse to have."

Trainer Dan Skelton was delighted to see Value At Risk (5-1) get back on track with his first victory for 14 months in the grandnational.fans Handicap Hurdle.

The Kayf Tara gelding came to England with a tall reputation from Philip Fenton's stable in Ireland three years ago after finishing third in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown.

Though he made a successful hurdling debut it has been far from plain sailing. After he fell in his first two attempts over fences, he was put back over the smaller obstacles and picked up a Grade Two contest at Fairyhouse in March 2016.

After a chasing campaign last term when he did open his account over fences, connections decided to go hurdling again.

That has resulted in a confidence-boosting win in which he had to dig deep for jockey Harry Skelton to hold Cake D'Isle by half a length.

"It was great to see him back on track and get a 'one' next to his name," said the Alcester trainer.

"His owner-breeder has been very patient. The blinkers made a big difference. They helped him concentrate.

"Where we go next I don't know, but it was just good to see him win."

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Mister Don delights Rose Dobbin as plan comes together at Doncaster

Rose Dobbin has the Edinburgh National as a possible early target in 2018 for Mister Don after the seven-year-old ended a luckless spell in the footballacca.tips 'Confined' Handicap Chase at Doncaster.

Mister Don had been second five times and third three times in 11 starts since winning at the South Yorkshire track 13 months ago, and it was a return to Town Moor that saw a change in his fortunes.

Dobbin used Mister Don's blank spell to pinpoint this three-and-a quarter mile race and it paid off as the 11-2 shot outstayed Alvarado by four-and-a-half lengths under Craig Nicol.

"I'm chuffed. We spotted the race a while ago and it's quite nice when a plan comes off," said the Alnwick handler.

"He's been very consistent but he'd had a bit of seconditis. It was a perfect race for him because it was for horses that hadn't won since last November, so we're very happy.

"He wants decent ground as he's by Presenting and he needs a long-distance race.

"It's got to be a stiff, three-mile plus race for him. Having said that, he's run well round Market Rasen and Muselburgh.

"There's a four-mile chase at Musselburgh in February. We'll have a look at that.

"He loves Doncaster and he jumped great today. He's a fine horse to have."

Trainer Dan Skelton was delighted to see Value At Risk (5-1) get back on track with his first victory for 14 months in the grandnational.fans Handicap Hurdle.

The Kayf Tara gelding came to England with a tall reputation from Philip Fenton's stable in Ireland three years ago after finishing third in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown.

Though he made a successful hurdling debut it has been far from plain sailing. After he fell in his first two attempts over fences, he was put back over the smaller obstacles and picked up a Grade Two contest at Fairyhouse in March 2016.

After a chasing campaign last term when he did open his account over fences, connections decided to go hurdling again.

That has resulted in a confidence-boosting win in which he had to dig deep for jockey Harry Skelton to hold Cake D'Isle by half a length.

"It was great to see him back on track and get a 'one' next to his name," said the Alcester trainer.

"His owner-breeder has been very patient. The blinkers made a big difference. They helped him concentrate.

"Where we go next I don't know, but it was just good to see him win."