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Colin Tizzard set for nervous Cheltenham build-up

Colin Tizzard is bracing himself for a "nervous" three weeks after Cue Card's tremendous display in Saturday's Ascot Chase all but confirmed the Dorset handler will saddle Britain's three biggest hopes for next month's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Heading the betting for the blue riband is Thistlecrack, who proved too strong for Cue Card in the King George VI Chase before suffering his first defeat over fences at the hands of the ill-fated Many Clouds at Cheltenham last month.

His Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National-winning stable companion Native River looks set to line up at Prestbury Park as second-favourite after completing his hat-trick in last weekend's Denman Chase at Newbury.

Cue Card, who Tizzard revealed on Saturday emerged from his King George reverse with a "big, fat leg", is currently third in the market at 6-1 after he bounced back to his brilliant best with what his trainer felt was a foot-perfect display in Berkshire.

Tizzard said: "Cue Card is absolutely fine this morning.

"I thought his performance on Saturday was as perfect as you can get. On all known form he deserved to win, but that doesn't mean they will.

"He travelled and jumped and came away in his own time, so we were delighted."

Looking ahead to the Gold Cup on March 17, the trainer added: "We're in a lovely position and now it's a case of trying to get them all there in one piece.

"Every day will be a nervous day for the next few weeks, hoping something doesn't go wrong.

"We just hope we don't get any bad luck."

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Don Poli and Outlander heading for Gold Cup

Michael O'Leary plans to run Don Poli and Outlander in the Cheltenham Gold Cup after he again reiterated his displeasure at the weights allotted to some of horses in the Grand National.

O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud operation claimed the Aintree spectacular for the first time last season as the Mouse Morris-trained Rule The World emerged triumphant on Merseyside.

The Grand National weights were revealed on Tuesday evening and Gigginstown are responsible for three of the top four horses, in Outlander, Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt.

However, Outlander was all but ruled out on the night by trainer Gordon Elliott, and O'Leary has since said he has no intention of letting his stable companions Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt line up, either, following a public dispute with the British Horseracing Authority's chief handicapper Phil Smith, who has discretion over how he frames the National weights.

Despite claiming Don Poli could be beaten "two furlongs" by ante-post favourite Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup, O'Leary still plans on letting him take his chance in the blue riband along with Lexus winner Outlander.

Speaking at Navan on Sunday, the Ryanair supremo said: "If they all arrive fit and well it's likely we'll run Outlander and Don Poli in the Gold Cup and probably Sub Lieutenant and Empire Of Dirt in the Ryanair Chase.

"I think the Ryanair is the logical race for Empire Of Dirt to go in. I would love to win it, I've spent 10 years trying to without any great success.

"With Sub Lieutenant and Empire Of Dirt we'll have a reasonable team."

Commenting further on the Grand National, O'Leary told At The Races: "My only issue is these are good horses and they shouldn't have to suffer a penalty to run over four and a quarter miles.

"Thankfully in the case of Outlander, Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt they can go for other races in Cheltenham, Aintree or come back for the Irish Grand National.

"But they're not running at the top of the weights (at Aintree). I think it would be a danger to the welfare of those horses. We lost Hear The Echo in 2009, he was carrying 8lb more than his handicap weight.

"These are well-exposed horses, it's not like we've been running in hurdles all year long.

"Don Poli has run three times in Grade Ones (this season) and been beaten in all of them, and yet Phil Smith has him up at 165, 5lb less than Thistlecrack.

"I think if he runs against Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup he'll be beaten two furlongs."

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All-the-way Acapella Bourgeois enters RSA Chase picture after Navan romp

Acapella Bourgeois may have earned himself a place at next month's Cheltenham Festival after galloping his rivals into submission in the Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan.

Twice a winner at Grade Two level over hurdles, the seven-year-old has taken a little while to realise his potential over fences.

The Sandra Hughes-trained seven-year-old fell at the first on his chasing debut at Naas, but decent efforts at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown suggested he was getting the hang of his new career and he opened his account in good style under front-running tactics at this venue last month.

Stepped up to three miles for the first time since last spring, Acapella Bourgeois jumped fluently at the head of affairs and it was clear a long way out he had his rivals in serious trouble.

He turned for home with a huge lead under Roger Loughran and kept up the gallop to seal an emphatic victory by 32 lengths.

The chestnut gelding was slashed to 16-1 from 33-1 for the RSA Chase by Ladbrokes, with RaceBets going 20-1, and Hughes confirmed that as a likely target, providing underfoot conditions are suitable.

"That was very good, He jumped as straight as a die today and he's improving all the time," said the Osborne Lodge-based trainer.

"The ground is a big key to him. He just goes on really heavy testing ground. His jumping was superb and he showed how good he is.

"He's in the RSA Chase and you'd have to say after today we would be travelling, but we'll see what the ground is like."

Asked if she could have a potential Gold Cup horse on her hands, Hughes added: "Possibly. He's very, very good.

"We knew that when he went chasing he'd show how good he was."

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Place gets home to complete five-timer in Boyne Hurdle

Sutton Place wore down stable companion De Plotting Shed to claim top honours in the Ladbrokes Ireland Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

Sutton Place was the 4-6 favourite to secure a fifth successive victory and eventually did so in good style under Barry Geraghty.

Rank outsider Milsean took the field along for much of the two-mile-five-furlong journey, but was a spent force at the top of the home straight.

Thomas Hobson briefly hit the front, but De Plotting Shed took over at the third-last.

He was followed through by Sutton Place, Supasundae and Renneti, but it was Gordon Elliott's pair who would fight out the finish, with Sutton Place quickening up well under hand driving to score by three and three-quarter lengths.

Elliott, who also won the Flyingbolt Novice Chase with Ball D'Arc, said: "He's a nice horse and he's a big chaser in the making, really. I'd say that ground just wasn't ideal for him, but he showed his class.

"We were riding him maybe a little negatively with the trip. Barry said he's a horse that you'd be better off grabbing a hold of and riding a race. He was a bit sloppy with his jumping because we wanted him relaxed.

"Chasing will be his game and whatever he does this year will be a bonus.

"There isn't a whole lot for him and we might look at the race in Fairyhouse for him (Grade Two Ballybin Hurdle)."

When asked if he could be supplemented for one of the races in Cheltenham, Elliott added: "No, definitely not."

Elliott stretched his lead in the race to be crowned this season's champion National Hunt trainer in Ireland by also taking the Race Displays Event Signage (Pro/Am) Flat Race with 2-7 favourite Poli Roi.

He said: "He's a nice horse but he's a horse for next year - a horse for down the road. We like him a lot and Jamie (Codd) said he'd come on a good bit from it as he had a good blow. He's a fair horse.

"He's a stayer like all the horses that Eddie (O'Leary) buys. He might run again, I'm not sure. We'll see how he comes out of it. Jamie said he'd definitely come on from the run so we'd be happy with that.

"It's a good day again, so we're happy enough."

Gillian Callaghan's smart staying chaser Mad Brian (12-1) is set for a second tilt at the Midlands National at Uttoxeter after making the most of his significantly lower mark over the smaller obstacles when bolting up in the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Hurdle under Danny Hand.

Miss Mardan was an 11-4 winner of the Get Your 2017 Navan Membership Maiden Hurdle, while Miles To Memphis struck gold at 25-1 in the P.S. Supplies Doors & Floors Handicap Hurdle.

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Ball D'Arc bounds to Flyingbolt success at Navan

Ball D'Arc came home with his head in his chest to land the Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan.

With Identity Thief a significant absentee, just three runners went to post for the Grade Three contest and the outsider of the trio, Tully East, never threatened to land a meaningful blow.

The Enda Bolger-trained Ballyoisin was the 4-5 favourite to follow up last month's impressive victory at Fairyhouse, with Gordon Elliott's Ball D'Arc a 6-4 shot on the back of winning the valuable Dan Moore Memorial Chase on the same card.

Ballyoisin led for much of the way under Barry Geraghty, with Bryan Cooper always on his tail aboard Ball D'Arc.

There was little to choose between the pair and neither had gone for everything when Ballyoisin crashed out three fences from the finish.

The favourite's exit allowed Ball D'Arc to ease his way to a 19-length success.

"He's a grand horse and the conditions suited him," said Elliott.

"You don't know what would have happened if Barry had stood up but we got the luck of the draw.

"Bryan said he was travelling but, for me, they were travelling as well as each other.

"We might look at the Ryanair Gold Cup in Fairyhouse for him. Over two miles he definitely needs that ground, but I'd say he might be all right on a bit better ground over two and a half."

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Cheltenham off the agenda for Identity Thief following setback

Identity Thief is unlikely to appear at next month's Cheltenham Festival after missing the Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan.

Henry de Bromhead's Grade One-winning hurdler made a flying start to his career over fences with successive wins at Punchestown, but it has been far from plain sailing for the seven-year-old since.

He was pulled up lame during a much anticipated clash with Min at Leopardstown over Christmas and then unseated David Mullins at the first fence in last month's Irish Arkle.

Connections had hoped to see Identity Thief get his season back on track in the Grade Three contest, but he was withdrawn after suffering another setback.

Michael O'Leary, of owners Gigginstown House Stud, told At The Races: " He pulled out lame this morning after pulling a shoe off himself in the box last night.

"The frustrating thing is that it probably rules out Cheltenham. We can't get a prep race in before Cheltenham and we can't go to the Arkle after pulling up and falling.

"We'll probably keep him at home and target the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse at Easter.

"He's just been unfortunate."

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Blow for Paul Nicholls with Cliffs Of Dover out for rest of the season

Prolific juvenile Cliffs Of Dover has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering a setback.

A moderate performer on the Flat for Charlie Hills, the four-year-old has proved a revelation since joining Paul Nicholls, winning six of his seven starts.

He was last seen landing a Grade Two at Doncaster in December and was being geared up for a tilt at the Triumph Hurdle at next month's Cheltenham Festival, but is now set for a spell on the sidelines.

Nicholls said in his Betfair blog: " Cliffs of Dover will miss the rest of the season after knocking a leg during a schooling session over hurdles just over a fortnight ago.

"I was hoping the injury would have cleared up by now but unfortunately it is a bit more serious than we first thought.

"So he will not be going to Cheltenham for the Triumph Hurdle next month, which is a shame because he has been a revelation since joining us in the summer with a mark of only 64 on the Flat.

"Cliffs of Dover will have a nice long break now before he comes back into training in the autumn and we will aim to have him right for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton."

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Harry Fry rules out National Hunt Chase for RSA-bound American

Harry Fry reports American on course for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham next month, ground permitting.

The seven-year-old was tremendously impressive in winning a Listed event at Warwick last month, beating Champers On Ice by four and a half lengths under Noel Fehily, backing up an Exeter win in November.

"American is good and we have said all along we are taking it a day at a time. He worked well on Saturday morning and we will keep working forward towards the RSA in all probability, but we are not getting ahead of ourselves," said Fry.

"It needs to be slow enough ground to run, purely just because he is fragile. It was a good performance of jumping at Warwick and it was one of the best performances of jumping you will see, what he did down the back straight."

American is a best-priced 12-1 chance for the RSA on March 14, while he was as low as 8-1 for the four-mile National Hunt Chase.

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Nicky Henderson still undecided over Whisper's Cheltenham target

Nicky Henderson admits to being in a quandary as to exactly which race Whisper will be aimed towards at Cheltenham next month.

A high-class hurdler before switching to fences for one start, the Dai Walters-owned nine-year-old has returned to novice chasing this season, winning twice at Cheltenham, most recently in the Dipper Novices' Chase on New Year's Day.

"I do keep umming and ahhing. I've always thought he was a JLT horse, but a lot of people are trying to convince me three miles might be better. I want to talk to Davy Russell (retained rider for Walters), he can advise me on what he he thinks," said Henderson.

"If he is nearly favourite for the RSA that tells me something about the race. We have Top Notch in the JLT, but it is not the case that one horse makes a difference. It is a close call."

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Nicky Henderson still undecided over Whisper's Cheltenham target

Nicky Henderson admits to being in a quandary as to exactly which race Whisper will be aimed towards at Cheltenham next month.

A high-class hurdler before switching to fences for one start, the Dai Walters-owned nine-year-old has returned to novice chasing this season, winning twice at Cheltenham, most recently in the Dipper Novices' Chase on New Year's Day.

"I do keep umming and ahhing. I've always thought he was a JLT horse, but a lot of people are trying to convince me three miles might be better. I want to talk to Davy Russell (retained rider for Walters), he can advise me on what he he thinks," said Henderson.

"If he is nearly favourite for the RSA that tells me something about the race. We have Top Notch in the JLT, but it is not the case that one horse makes a difference. It is a close call."