Gordon Elliott has signalled his intention to use amateur Rob James for a number of his higher-weighted horses in the open handicaps at the Cheltenham, headlined by Sire Du Berlais is the Pertemps Network Final.
Elliott is trusting James on the 10-year-old, who took the staying handicap hurdle in 2020 and who finished second in the Stayers’ Hurdle 12 months ago. He holds entries in both this time but the handicap is the trainer’s preference at this stage.
James already has one Festival success to his name on the Elliott-trained Milan Native in the Fulke Walywn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase for amateurs in 2020.
“We’re leaning towards the Pertemps with Sire Du Berlais. He qualified by running in Warwick. He’s a few pounds higher in England than in Ireland off 156,” said Elliott.
“Rob James is going to ride him and claim 7lb off. That will bring him into the race on a nice racing weight off 11st 5lb.
“We’ll use his claim on a few of the higher-weighted horses in Cheltenham. He’s had a couple of hundred point to point winners. He’ll ride a few of the top weights for us all being well.”
The County Meath handler named Death Duty in the Ultima as his best handicapped horse over the four days.
“Probably the best handicapped of all mine is Death Duty in the Ultima. He’s down 1lb. Everything else seems to be up 4lb or 6lb. I knew the handicapper has his job to do,” he said.
Elliott picked out several other of his hopefuls for special attention.
“Frontal Assault is up 6lb and he’ll just get into the Kim Muir. He definitely runs and we’re looking forward to running him,” he said.
“Top Bandit has done everything right so far. This is going to be his biggest test. He has a nice weight in the County Hurdle (10st 13lb). He seems in good form and we’ve been training him for the race.
“Buddy Rich has got 11st in the Grand Annual. He’s up 6lb off 144. He runs well fresh and the race will suit him.”
The Tide Turns could be Elliott’s first string in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
“Fil Dor will probably be a doubtful runner. I imagine he’ll probably go for the Triumph,” he said.
“The Tide Turns is only plus two to 137 compared to Ireland, so we’re happy enough with him. He really caught the eye in Gowran Park the last day. We’ll probably run five in it. All horses will go there with a chance.
“We’re likely to have between 50 and 60 horses in total going to Cheltenham. We’ll sit down at home and talk about all the weights but it will definitely be around 50.”
Local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies aims to send a competitive team despite being fearful of the Irish contingent.
“We’re well down on numbers this season, but what we have got have run very well,” said the Naunton handler.
“Ballyandy is quite interesting. He’s run in Champion Bumpers and Champion Hurdles and is going for the Pertemps.
“He won a qualifier the other day at Chepstow and it will be quite exciting to see him back – he seems in such good form.
“As far as I know we can still use Finn Lambert’s 10lb claim, so that helps us. He’s very good and has ridden three winners now, so we’ll have to keep him quiet until the Festival.
“We’ve got Zambella and Vienna Court in the Mares’ Chase and Vienna Court is also in the Plate. I don’t know what to do about her.
“Vienna Court has won here twice, but the two of them are rated the same and I wouldn’t like to split them.”
Twiston-Davies has Fantastikas in two races but is leaning towards the Ultima.
“Fantastikas is in the Ultima and the National Hunt Chase. The Ultima is probably his race, but he’ll left in both,” he said.
“I Like To Move It was superb in the Betfair Hurdle. He’s in the Supreme, but it probably makes more sense to go to the County.
“Gowel Road is in the Martin Pipe and the Coral and we’ll look at both of those, and Guard Your Dreams could also go in the Coral.
“We’ve got a few, but it is tricky with the Irish hordes coming over!”
Neil Mulholland feels Lord Accord in the Kim Muir is his best chance of the meeting.
“I suppose we’ve got five or six entries, horses like the old man Kansas City Chief. He ran in the Pertemps last year, but there weren’t as many Irish horses in it then,” he said.
“We’ve got Brief Times, who has won his two novice hurdles and finished second. He’s entered for the Coral Cup.
“We have Lord Accord in a few races and the Kim Muir would be the one I would like to run him in. I’d have to speak to the owners, but I’m sure Sam Waley-Cohen would get first dibs on him.
“He’s a nice novice and he could be our best chance of picking up a bit of prize-money.”
Global Citizen is set to lead Ben Pauling’s small team.
“We’re slightly light on horses for Cheltenham this year – we might run four or five,” he said.
“Looking at who is going to get in, I think Global Citizen has been a funny horse. He completely lost his way 18 months ago, but has run really quite well recently in a Grade Two and a Listed.
“He’s rated 136 (over hurdles and fences), he’s in the County Hurdle and the Grand Annual and I’d like to think he’ll run well as he’s back to his normal self.”