Cloudy Too primed for Gold Cup tilt

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HARVEY Smith has indicated that Cloudy Too will line up in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup next month, jump racing’s blue riband race, and that he expects “a big run” from his top chaser.

The Rowland Meyrick Chase winner finished a creditable second to the resurgent Captain Chris in last Saturday’s Grade One Betfair Ascot Chase.

Even though the eight-year-old still holds an entry in the shorter Ryanair Chase at the National Hunt Festival, Smith – husband of Grand National-winning trainer Sue – says they have nothing to lose by lining up in the three-and-a-quarter mile race, which lacks the depth of previous years.

“My gut feeling is that he’ll go for the Gold Cup. We may as well sink or swim,” said Smith.

“If he runs well, the handicapper will have him right, but if he doesn’t then he will be forced to reassess him. I’m looking for a big run from him.”

The High Eldwick stable also has a live candidate for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in Blakemount, who was just beaten by Malcolm Jefferson’s Urban Hymn in the River Don at Doncaster.

“He’s a nice horse, but he’s still a baby on the way up,” said Smith.

“Horses sometimes need an easy race after a hard one, but he’s had lots of hard races. He was just touched off on the line at Doncaster and you can accept that, that’s racing. He’s very tough and is a nice horse, but you’ve got to nurture them.”

The Smith stable took its tally of winners for the 2013-14 season to 51 with a Sedgefield double courtesy of the gutsy Whiskey Ridge, which prevailed under Ryan 
Mania, and the Jonathan England-inspired Bennys Well.

The meeting saw David Pipe’s highly-regarded novice hurdler Vieux Lion Rouge seal a 12-length win – the five-year-old holds multiple Cheltenham entries.

However, Malton trainer John Quinn is unsure whether to run Wetherby winner Aurore D’Estruval at the National Hunt Festival after her narrow reverse in Haydock’s Victor Ludorum last weekend.

The French recruit could run in either the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter, but targets in Ireland and France are being considered.

He said: “The worry would be she’s only had three runs in her life and I’m not sure if she’d be streetwise enough for Cheltenham.”

Quinn has a strong hand in the juvenile division this term, with dual Doncaster winner Pearl Castle and Rutherglen likely runners.

Quinn’s near neighbour Malcolm Jefferson says Oscar Rock will miss the festival after a disappointing display at Haydock. “We expected him to run much better. Maybe it was the ground, a lot of horses struggled in the ground, we’ll just have to see,” he said.

Jefferson will be represented by two-time hurdles winner Urban Hymn in the Albert Bartlett, while previous Festival winner Attaglance and the consistent Firth Of The Clyde could run in handicap chases.

Gold Cup fifth Cape Tribulation, however, will miss the Crabbie’s Grand National.

“He’s had a haematoma on his leg, it came up massive and it has taken a while for it to settle,” said Jefferson. “You need to be 100 per cent going there and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Top Irish novice hurdler The Tullow Tank will miss Cheltenham due to the “uncertainty” surrounding trainer Philip Fenton’s ongoing court case for alleged possession of anabolic steroids, said his owner Barry Connell.

Although the case was adjourned until March 20 – nine days after the Festival is due to begin – plans for the two-time Grade One winner are on hold until the issue has been resolved. Connell’s Bumper horse Volvalien will also be kept out of the firing line.

This year’s Investec Epsom Oaks will be run in memory of eight-time winner Sir Henry Cecil.