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Edwardstone tees up Betfair Hurdle bid

Alan King has his sights set on Newbury with Edwardstone following his winning return to hurdling action at Market Rasen.

The seven-year-old was fifth in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November before switching to fences, where he unseated his rider in a novice event at Doncaster in December.

Back to the smaller obstacles at the Lincolnshire track, Gavin Sheehan’s mount ran out a comfortable five-length winner of the MansionBet Handicap Hurdle.

King was at Warwick, where he outlined plans for his even-money winner.

He said: “He will go to the Betfair (Hurdle) and he was always going to go there. He gets a penalty for that, but I needed to get a run into him as he has had no match practice this season.

“We were going to go chasing with him, but he only got to the fourth fence at Doncaster and I just felt I’d rather have a full season with him over fences so went back to training him for Newbury.

“I wanted to get a run into him and this race fitted in well before the Betfair. I do think he will be a very good chaser, but you would have ended up getting one run into him then going to Cheltenham and you can’t do that.

“I might run him over a fence in May when the freshness is out of him. He has always been potentially very good and he is settling better now.”

On The Blind Side has been a model of consistency
On The Blind Side has been a model of consistency (Tim Goode/PA)

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On The Blind Side’s fine season continued when he justified his position as short-priced favourite with a game victory in the MansionBet’s Bet 10 Get 10 Hurdle.

The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding was last seen finishing second to the highly-regarded McFabulous in the Grade Two Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton, his third run of a campaign that has seen him finish in the first two every time.

Jumping fluently throughout and travelling in the slipstream of the ever-popular Lil Rockerfeller, the nine-year-old was engaged in a shoulder-to-shoulder battle with the chestnut and eventually shook him off after the last to prevail by a neck under Nico de Boinville.

“He dug deep there, he was brilliant,” De Boinville said of the evens scorer.

“Fair play to the owners and the guv’nor for spinning him round so fast after last time.

“It’s great to see him showing a bit of consistency this season, well, a lot of consistency. The ground didn’t bother him at all.”

The race sadly saw the loss of 2018 County Hurdle winner Mohaayed, who had unseated Bridget Andrews at the fifth flight.

Harrison Beswick riding Eclair Mag
Harrison Beswick riding Eclair Mag (Tim Goode/PA)

Eclair Mag struck gold on his first start for trainer Richard Bandey when claiming the MansionBet’s Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase at the massive starting price of 80-1.

The French import had one hurdles win and one chase win to his name for Vaumas-based Emmanuel Clayeux before joining the yard of Bandey earlier this month.

Taking up the lead over the penultimate fence having been towards the rear for much of the race, the seven-year-old was spring-heeled at the final fence to pull away from 5-2 favourite Mac Tottie and prevail by four and three-quarter lengths under 5lb claimer Harrison Beswick.

“Harrison said we should have him, he was at Emmanuel Clayeux’s, who Harrison was working for last summer,” Bandey said.

“We had no expectations coming over, we thought it might be too heavy, but he’s travelled well and he’s jumped like a stag. I can’t believe he’s done it that well, to be honest.

“We have thought we might look at the cross-country race at Cheltenham, but he might be too far up the handicap for that, we’ll see. For now we’ll just enjoy today.”

Connor Brace and Art Approval on their way to victory
Connor Brace and Art Approval on their way to victory (Tim Goode/PA)

Art Approval made light work of the MansionBet Watch and Bet Novices’ Hurdle for Fergal O’Brien and Connor Brace, looking worthy of his 4-11 favourite status when triumphing by seven lengths.

The victory was a first for the five-year-old, who joined O’Brien in July last year and has since been runner-up in two hurdle contests before finishing seventh at Cheltenham in November after making a late mistake.

“He’s done it very well,” Brace said of the performance.

“Once he hit the front he had a bit of a look as he’s never been in front before, but he had a nice trip and he jumped well, too.

“He’s a horse that seems to always run a little behind the bridle and because of the heavy ground he hit a flat spot there, but that aside he went very well.”

Fawsley Spirit (9-4 favourite) shed his 13-race maiden tag when grinding out a hard-fought triumph in the MansionBet Faller Insurance Handicap Hurdle for trainer Ben Pauling and jockey Luca Morgan.

The eight-year-old ran prominently throughout, seeing off a late challenge from Akarita Lights over the penultimate flight to pull away approaching the last and cross the line three and a quarter lengths ahead of his nearest rival.

Alan King holds strong hand in Greatwood Hurdle

Alan King saddles last year’s winner Harambe and the ante-post favourite Edwardstone in Sunday’s Unibet Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.

King enjoyed a fruitful summer on the Flat with three Royal Ascot winners, a success on Champions Day with Trueshan and the November Handicap through On To Victory.

One the same day as the latter he also won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton with Sceau Royal, so there is no doubting his horses remain in excellent form.

“You need the right ammunition for this race, bur Harambe won it last year and, together with Edwardstone, we go back with two solid chances,” said King.

“Harambe had a run before he went there last year and though that has not been possible this time around, he has been moving very well and pleasing me at home.”

Harambe has not been seen since the Betfair Hurdle in February when he was brought down at the final flight when still in contention.

King told his website: “Harambe was brought down at the last at Newbury and was on the floor for a while. It has taken him a long time to recover, but he did his pre-training at AP’s (McCoy) and it is good to have him back in action here.”

Edwardstone was beaten a neck in a Grade Two on heavy ground at Haydock before a respectable sixth in the Supreme in March last season and looks the right type for the race, although ground conditions could become a concern.

Edwardstone was a smart novice last season
Edwardstone was a smart novice last season (David Davies/PA)
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“He is an exciting prospect with untapped potential and though he can be a bit free in his races, he is beautifully relaxed at the moment, which is very encouraging,” said King.

“He was a high-class novice last season and ran well in the Supreme at the Festival when our horses were not really firing. I hope the forecast rain does not materialise as he is more effective on better ground.

“Both horses schooled on Monday and we’ve done as much as we can with them at home but while both would make lovely chasers, this is a great race in which to start back and I am very happy with them.”

In contrast, top-weight Ballyandy would benefit from the forecast rain, according to his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Ballyandy won the Champion Bumper in 2016
Ballyandy won the Champion Bumper in 2016 (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I thought he ran a cracker under top-weight at Ffos Las to split Sceau Royal and Buzz last time out and I’d love to run him in this, but he does want it a bit softer,” Twiston-Davies told William Hill.

Jamie Snowden registered one of the biggest winners of his career last weekend with Ga Law and chases another with Pisagh Pike.

“He’s a highly-progressive sort since we gave him a wind op in the summer and he’s won his two novice hurdles well,” said Snowden.

“He just got touched off in a Listed race at Market Rasen which arguably he perhaps should have gone on and won.

“He’s got a nice handicap mark so hopefully we can try to exploit in a big race like this.”

Thinking is massively unexposed for David Pipe, having his first run since being bought from France over 800 days ago.

“We’ve had him since he was a three-year-old,” said Pipe.

“His owner (Nick Shutts) has been very patient. He picked up a tendon injury. He was actually due to run last year when the lockdown happened.

“He’s got an engine. He’s rated 132 so he’s at the right end of the handicap but he wants soft ground.

“We like him and hopefully he can repay the owner’s patience.”

Dan Skelton’s Proschema is another lightly-raced type and jockey Harry Skelton is another who will be watching the skies.

“I’m looking forward to him and the drier the ground the better. It’s a bit of a wet forecast which could be a bit of a problem, but I’m sure we’ll take our chance,” he said on Racing TV.

“The better the ground the stronger his chance. He ran a nice race the last day at Wetherby and he’s come forward from that.”

Paul Nicholls’ Thyme White, who was impressive at Chepstow, and Tom Lacey’s Sebastopol are other fancied runners.