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Min far from sole Cheltenham Festival hurdles intrigue of weekend

| 11.01.2016

A facile victory for Willie Mullins’ Min in the Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle hogged the majority of Cheltenham ante-post headlines over the weekend’s racing.

Available at 9/4 before the nine-and-a-half-length stroll, the Rich Ricci-owned French-bred is now just 5/4 to land the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival.

However, elsewhere on the Saturday card there were other interesting developments with regard to the races run over the smaller obstacles in March, which may have escaped some readers’ attention.

A second successive fall for Paul Nicholls’ classy chaser Ptit Zig, brought an admission that the seven-year-old had never really taken to fences from his trainer.

Nicholls highlighted the Cleeve Hurdle over 3m as his charge’s likely next assignment, with the World Hurdle the obvious corresponding Festival race.

The Ditcheat handler has already highlighted Aux Ptit Sons and Saphir Du Rheu as being on track for the 3m Grade 1, but Ptit Zig has been inserted into the market at 20/1.

Alternatively, given the yard’s strength in depth, he could make an interesting contender for either the Coral Cup or County Hurdle.

Thought both fast enough and good enough to contest the Champion Hurdle over 2m in 2014, the former (won by Whisper off a mark of 154 in 2014) could be right up his street.

Kempton produced another promising hurdles showing with the Festival in mind when David Dennis’ Seven Kingdoms won the Juvenile hurdle by 17l.

After watching the four-year-old triumph with the greatest of ease, Dennis suggested his charge had the class for the Triumph Hurdle, but that he might lack the ‘match practice’ for such a contest.

The Fred Winter, the Triumph’s handicap equivalent, may prove a more realistic target.

On the same afternoon, Diamond King was scoring in the 2m4f hurdle at Punchestown to land his first victory in three races since swapping Donald McCain’s yard for Gordon Elliott’s.

Gordon-Elliott-at-CheltenhamLong a very highly-thought-of animal, it was the eight-year-old’s fifth win in just ten career starts.

Afterwards his shrewd trainer told the Racing Post, “I think better ground will suit him better. That could be him until Cheltenham. The Martin Pipe is the plan I have in mind for this horse.”

Little further persuasion should be required to back the unexposed performer for the ‘boy’s race’ when it is priced up.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Thomas Reynolds