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Cheltenham countdown: Weights unveiled for Festival handicaps

Wed 28 Feb 2018

Mala Beach will have to carry top weight in the Ultima Handicap Chase if Gordon Elliott decides to run him on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The 10-year-old is one of 83 possible entries, 18 of which are from Ireland, and British Horseracing Authority senior handicapper Phil Smith said this year's renewal is, on paper, the best "by some degree".

Smith believes a mark of 138 may be the cut-off point for the race on March 13.

Neil Mulholland has high hopes for Kalondra in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase on the same afternoon.

The Wiltshire handler said: "He's got course-and-distance form. He also ran very well in the Coral Cup last year.

"He was only beaten 10 lengths in that so he runs well round here (Cheltenham).

"He was 147 a couple of runs ago and he is now 145, which is great as it means he is guaranteed a run."

Ante-post favourite William Henry (11st 8lb) is one of the main players for the Coral Cup on March 14.

Stablemate Thomas Campbell is currently top-weight but trainer Nicky Henderson is leaning more towards running him in the Pertemps Network Final a day later.

In the likely absence of Redicean, the weights for the Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle are set to go up by 10lb.

Nube Negra (10st 10lb) and Act Of Valour (10st 11lb) feature amongst 40 entries along with Olly Murphy's Oxford Blu (10st 3lb).

"Oxford Blu was unfortunate not to win a £20,000 handicap on his last run. He got a bit lonely in front," said Murphy.

"I think he will outrun his price in the Fred Winter and we will put a pair of blinds on him.

"I'd imagine Richard Johnson would ride him as he hasn't got a ride."

The Elliott-trained Ball D'Arc is top-weight for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate on March 15, in which long-time ante-post favourite Tully East is on 11st 3lb.

Smith warned that big Irish hope Squoateur (11st 2lb) is only 50-50 to make the cut in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase on the same day.

Mick Jazz is at the summit of the weights for the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle on the final day of the Festival on March 16.

Elliott's inmate is one of 39 Irish entries in the Grade Three, including ante-post favourite Max Dynamite (10st 11lb).

Murphy has protected Hunters Call's mark since a big win at Ascot but with just 10st 7lb, he may have done too good a job.

"It looks like he has got 20 to come out so we will be keeping our fingers crossed," said Murphy.

"I've had a bit of guidance off a few people and hopefully I have done the right thing.

"He is in good form and his preparation has gone well. Off his Ascot run, he looks like he is good fresh."

Flawless Escape, who is also trained by Elliott, has been allotted 11st 2lb for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle on the same day.

Ball D'Arc has also been entered for the final race of the Festival, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase, in which he would carry joint-top weight of 11st 12lb alongside Ordinary World.

Ante-post favourite Theinval has been given 10st 10lb for the Henderson team. 

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