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Former Festival winner Moon Racer is entered in the County Hurdle & Coral Cup

We are approaching the final countdown to the Cheltenham Festival now and with only two weeks left to go until the biggest four days in jump racing, the preview season is now upon us. Indeed, as usual I will be featuring on the panels at Exeter and Taunton racecourses on 6th and 9th March respectively and they are normally informative and entertaining affairs. Furthermore, they benefit good causes so I would encourage anyone who has not been before to take a look – details can be found on their websites.

Rightly or wrongly, Cheltenham tends to dominate the news for months leading up to the Festival. For most, these four days are the Olympics of the horse racing world, the pinnacle of our sport and a winner at the meeting can mean the difference between a successful season or not, such is the perceived importance. Fortunately, during my career I have managed to come away with winners more often than not, drawing a blank only twice since taking over the reins at Pond House. Competition is fierce, but I will be doing my best to ensure that we are in the winners’ enclosure once again and while we may be lacking in the championship races this year, we will have plenty of chances in the handicaps during the course of the week.

The first handicap of the week is the Ultima handicap chase on the Tuesday, a race that I have been fortunate enough to win for the last two years with the mighty Un Temps Pour Tout. Unfortunately he will not be able to attempt the hat-trick this time around, although we are still strongly represented by Dell’ Arca and improving novice chasers Ramses de Teillee and Eamon An Cnoic. The latter named pair are also engaged in the Close Brothers novices’ handicap chase later on the first day.

Moon Racer, Mr Big Shot and Shaama Grise are entered in the Coral Cup handicap hurdle on Wednesday 14th March.

The Brown Advisory handicap chase is a race that I have been fortunate enough to win under its other guises with the likes of Great Endeavour, Salut Flo and Ballynagour and this time we have ex-French import King’s Socks and Eamon An Cnoic entered. Also on Thursday is the Pertemps handicap hurdle which features Dell’ Arca, Taj Badalandabad and Poker Play, while in the Kim Muir we have Dell’ Arca and Emaon An Cnoic.

There are three more handicaps on the final day of the meeting and in those we have Moon Racer and Friday Night Light in the County hurdle, Dell’ Arca, Taj Badalandabad, Mr Big Shot, Shaama Grise, Friday Night Light and Three Star General in my father’s race, while Vaniteux is our sole entry in the Grand Annual handicap chase.

As you have probably noticed, a number of our horses have multiple engagements over the course of the meeting and this is to give them the best possible chance of success. We will look through all of the opposition before deciding who goes where, although such is the competitive nature of these races, in some cases it will be a case of running where you can get in. In some cases, the spread between top weight and bottom weight is only a few pounds and these races are almost handicaps in name only.

With Cheltenham looming large, I remain pleased with the way the horses are running. Unfortunately we did not hit the mark last week with our handful of runners, but with It’s Obvious, River Dun, Garran City and Poker Play all reaching the frame it is clear that the horses remain in good order. I was particularly pleased with the performance of Garran City who was having only his second ever start in the maiden hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday and his first outing for 700 days. He shaped with a great deal of promise in finishing a close third and he looks to be a super staying chaser for the future.

Looking ahead to this week and it is likely to be a quiet one for the yard, not least as I expect the forecast cold front to claim its share of fixtures. Indeed, Wincanton have already been forced to abandon their meeting for Wednesday owing to the frozen patches on the course. Even so, we should have a runner tomorrow on the all-weather at Lingfield when Celestial Path contests the 1m2f handicap under Dougie Costello. We will keep an eye on the weather before committing to anything after that.

In the meantime, for all the latest news from around the stable, do keep in touch with Chester’s Daily Chat or follow us on Twitter @DavidPipeRacing.

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