Special Tiara expected to be crowned if surface proves suitable

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HENRY de Bromhead expects drying ground to bring out the best in Special Tiara in the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham next week.

The seven-year-old was a surprise winner of the Grade One Maghull Novices’ Chase on a dry surface at Aintree last spring and was not far behind Champion Chase favourite Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham earlier this season.

He was well beaten by Punchestown specialist Arvika Ligeonniere on heavy ground in the Tied Cottage Chase in early February, but he looks set to encounter his favoured conditions at the Festival thanks to a drying surface.

De Bromhead said: “Davy Russell will ride him. I’m hoping for better ground for him as he’s much better on that and he should improve a huge amount as he hated the ground at Punchestown.

“It was yielding when he won at Aintree and anything like that I’d be happy. He’s in super form.”

All set to join Special Tiara in the Champion Chase field is Cheltenham favourite Sizing Europe.

Winner of the Arkle in 2010, the Champion Chase in 2011 and runner-up in the last two renewals of the two-mile championship, the 12-year-old saves his best efforts for the Festival.

De Bromhead said: “He seems in great form and he loves the place, I’m just hoping he gives a good account of himself.”

Al Ferof and Dynaste top a total of 21 possibles for Thursday’s mouthwatering Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, while Sue Smith’s Cloudy Too has been withdrawn – the Rowland Meyrick Chase winner is set to line up in next Friday’s Gold Cup.

As expected, Big Buck’s and Annie Power are among 16 confirmations for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle on Thursday.

Meanwhile, 18-time champion jockey AP McCoy has been booked to ride Malton handler John Quinn’s Cockey Sparrow in Tuesday’s OLGB Mares’ Hurdle where he will be up against Irish superstar Quevega, who will be bidding to win the race for a sixth successive year.

n Brian Ellison has nominated the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury as the most likely seasonal starting point for stable star Top Notch Tonto, who was second in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot.

Malton-based Ellison, who saddles Yesyoucan and Viva Colonia at Cheltenham next week, feels his charge could be even better this season and sees the Group One Lockinge in May as an obvious target.

The horse is due to appear at the Holderness point-to-point next weekend.

“He’s in great form and put on a lot of weight over the winter. He’s about 50 kilos heavier than he was last year,” said Ellison.

“He’s probably not going to keep all that on, but it shows that he has done really well during his time off.

“The Lockinge is his first big target, as long as the ground is on the soft side.”

n This year’s Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom will be run in commemoration of three-time winner St Nicholas Abbey, who died earlier this year.