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Clan Des Obeaux still in Sandown contention

Clan Des Obeaux heads 20 horses confirmed for the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The dual King George hero was last seen bouncing back to winning ways in the Betway Bowl at Aintree earlier this month – one of three winners on the card for co-owner Sir Alex Ferguson.

In the immediate aftermath of that Grade One victory, trainer Paul Nicholls raised the possibility of the nine-year-old contesting the traditional end-of-season highlight.

Should he take his chance, Clan Des Obeaux will carry 11st 12lb and concede upwards of 12lb to his rivals, including stablemates Soldier Of Love and Enrilo.

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Welsh trainer Christian Williams has a couple of contenders for the three-mile-five-furlong contest in Kitty’s Light and Cap Du Nord, while Neil Mulholland is set to saddle both The Young Master and Doing Fine.

Williams said of his pair: “The plan is to run the two of them.

“I’m not sure if Clan Des Obeaux will run or not. Paul does like to run them, but it’s a question of whether he’ll run him on that ground.

“It probably won’t make much difference to us if he runs or not. If he does we’ll be slightly out of the weights, which isn’t ideal, but Kitty’s Light isn’t over-big, so if he carries 10st it wouldn’t hurt.

“If Clan Des Obeaux does come out, then he’ll nudge up in the weights, but I wouldn’t be too worried either way.”

The Young Master won the race in 2016 and was second when the race was last run two years ago, while Doing Fine also has winning form over the course and distance.

Mulholland said: “The plan is to run both horses, all going well.

“It’s five years since The Young Master won it, but he’s still going strong and is as fit as we can get him.

The Young Master (left) on his way to winning the 2016 Bet365 Gold Cup
The Young Master (left) on his way to winning the 2016 Bet365 Gold Cup (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He hasn’t had a run for a while (since August), but he’s had a couple of away-days and this has always been the plan for him.

“Doing Fine won the London National at Sandown earlier in the season and likes it around there – he’s run well in this race in the past.

“The Young Master is 12 and Doing Fine is 13. It’s a pity they’re getting on in age, but it happens to us all!”

Henry de Bromhead’s Plan Of Attack and the Sean Doyle-trained Crosshue Boy could travel from Ireland.

Other hopefuls include Kim Bailey’s El Presente and the Venetia Williams-trained Cepage.

Fry eyes bet365 Gold Cup with Ask Me Early

Harry Fry has pencilled in the bet365 Gold Cup as an end-of-season target for recent Uttoxeter winner Ask Me Early, as long as the ground is suitable.

The seven-year-old bounced back from a disappointing effort at Sandown to run out a cosy two-and-a-quarter-length winner on Midlands National day, and his trainer is now eyeing a return to Esher on the last day of the campaign.

He said: “He is in the Scottish National, but it is unlikely he will run there – and the preference at this stage would be the bet365 Gold Cup.

“His plans very much depend on the ground conditions, because his form has all been on slower ground, but we thought at this stage to give him this option.

“He was never comfortable from the word go on his previous start at Sandown, but Sean Bowen said he wasn’t happy going to post – and you could see early on he wasn’t travelling like he usually does.

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“He has come out of the Uttoxeter race in really good order. This would be a good race to go for, because we have some good targets in mind as a second season chaser next season. We always thought he was a chaser and out-and-out, three-mile-plus stayer.

“Up until his Sandown run I was training him for the Midlands National. On the back of Sandown we decided not to aim quite that high, but the novice handicap chase on the same card was a nice stepping stone – and he came through that well.

“I think he is a proper National horse next season, certainly a Welsh National type and potentially one for the Grand National.”

Ask Me Early is one of 66 entries for the three-mile-five-furlong feature – with other notable contenders at this stage including the Randox Grand National favourite Cloth Cap, multiple Grade One winner Bristol De Mai, Cheltenham Festival winner Vintage Clouds and Kitty’s Light, who heads the ante-post market with the sponsor at odds of 10-1.

The David Pipe-trained Ramses De Teillee finished down the field in the Midlands National, where his trainer felt he perhaps did not see out the four-and-a-quarter-mile trip, but his participation would also depend on conditions at Sandown.

Pipe said: “Ramses is only nine, but it feels like he has been around for a long time. He would need softer ground to run. I would say he would be OK if it was good to soft.

“He ran well in the Midlands National, where he probably didn’t quite get the trip. But he has come out well, and I was happy to put the entry in the bet365 Gold Cup.

“We will just have to see what the weather is like now. We always thought it would be a tough season. He won well at Cheltenham (in November), though, and ran well in defeat in France (first time out). He disappointed in the Welsh National – but since then he has run well at Haydock and the Midlands National.

“A horse like him is in the grip of the handicapper at the moment, but he has come down 2lb for his latest run. With his rating, it makes life a bit harder for him, but he always runs his heart out every time.”

Bet365 has backed the National Hunt finale since 2008, and announced an extension of its sponsorship for a further three years on Wednesday.

The firm also sponsors Sandown’s Classic Trial Day, which is staged 24 hours before the top-class jumps card on April 23.

Lavelle maps out long-term Sandown target for Prophecy

Emma Lavelle plans to work back from an outing in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown with Irish Prophecy.

After deciding to draw stumps for the winter with the seven-year-old, Lavelle believes the prestigious handicap on the final day of the season could be a suitable long-term target.

Irish Prophecy added to his first victory over fences at Newton Abbot in July with a decisive success at Taunton on his most recent start, having previously found only Badger Beers Silver Trophy winner El Presente too strong at Exeter.

She said: “He has been brilliant recently, but he is off on holiday at the moment as he wants decent ground.

“We will look at some of the nice staying races in the spring with him.

“I would think we will end up looking towards going to the bet365 Gold Cup. ”

Emma Lavelle feels Irish Prophecy has benefitted from having cheekpieces applied on his last two starts (Mike Egerton/PA Images)
Emma Lavelle feels Irish Prophecy has benefitted from having cheekpieces applied on his last two starts (Mike Egerton/PA Images)

The Marlborough handler believes the recent addition of cheekpieces has helped Irish Prophecy begin to fulfil his potential over fences.

She added: “He is a great jumper now, as he used to be slow over them.

“The cheekpieces have made the world of difference to the horse as they have allowed him to travel.

“At Taunton he was quick, accurate and slick.”

With Irish Prophecy racing in the silks of long-standing owner Nick Mustoe, it has given Lavelle further reason to be pleased about his recent progress.

Lavelle said: “Nick Mustoe is the nicest, most loyal person ever planted on this earth.

“To see him having a horse like this and be involved with Shang Tang, who won at Ascot on Saturday, is great as he has been through thick and thin.

“You just want people like him to have all the luck in the world.”