Rebecca Curtis is optimistic that Lisnagar Oscar can provide her with a second victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
It is six years since At Fishers Cross delighted favourite-backers with a facile success in this three-mile contest – and Lisnagar Oscar appears to hold similarly strong claims on Friday.
Bought for £105,000 after winning an Irish point-to-point, the six-year-old has won his last two starts over hurdles and was particularly impressive on his latest outing in a Grade Two at Haydock.
Curtis said: “He seems in great form at home, so we’re quite hopeful about his chances.
“He seems to go on any ground, and we’re very happy with him going into the race.
“I suppose he’s similar to At Fishers Cross in that he can travel through a race and quicken up, but this horse is a very good jumper.
“I think he deserves his place after his last performance.”
Birchdale puts his unbeaten record on the line for Nicky Henderson.
Having won his only start in the Irish point-to-point sphere, the JP McManus-owned five-year-old made a successful debut under rules at Warwick in December, before stepping up in class in a Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle trial at Cheltenham in January.
With the same connections electing to run Champ in the Ballymore itself, Birchdale instead steps up to three miles on the final day of the Festival.
Recent Chepstow winner Dickie Diver is a second runner for McManus and Henderson, who said: “I think Birchdale is the better out of the two. Dickie Diver has done nothing wrong, but Birchdale is a very high-class horse.
“He is a bit naive still, and I’m sure over three miles it will give him chance to find his feet. I’m sure he will stay, but he is not slow either.
“Dickie is very solid. It wants to be soft ground for Dickie Diver, but Birchdale won’t mind it. I do like Birchdale a lot.”
Willie Mullins runs recent Clonmel Grade Three winner Allaho, as well as Dorrells Pierji and Salsaretta.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said of the former: “He is a very exciting horse and a big chaser in the making.
“He’s in great form, and I think the ground and the trip will suit him well.
“He probably lacks a bit of experience – but coming from France he’ll have done plenty as a young horse, so I don’t think it’s a major worry.”
Gordon Elliott’s pair Commander Of Fleet and Dinons also feature in a 20-strong field.
Elliott said: “Commander Of The Fleet is a nice big horse, but he is a raw horse for the future.
“He is in good form, and I definitely think it is the right time to be trying him over three miles because as he is a big chaser in the making.
“Dinons is a nice horse and he has won around here before, so he has got experience of the track. He was cantering last time and nearly got brought down three out, and that’s why he ended up nearly finishing last.”
Derrinross is another interesting Irish contender for the father-son combination of Philip and Luke Dempsey.
The eight-year-old is two from two since returning from almost a year on the sidelines, and is proven over three miles on testing ground.
“He travelled over well, he’s been ridden out and he’s fine,” said the trainer.
“He’ll handle the ground, drying conditions. The rain might keep it loose.”
Ben Pauling has already been among the winners this week after Le Breuil landed Tuesday’s National Hunt Chase, and the Bourton-on-the-Water handler has high hopes for River Don winner Nadaitak.
He said: “He’s in very good form. If he handles the track he could run a big race. He’s got the right sort of profile.
“He’s in good order going into it. It’s a tough race. He’s up to running well, I believe.
“He’s done nothing wrong. We’re happy with him and we’re looking forward to it.”