Owner Sir Robert Ogden could be double-handed in the £100,000 Grade Two Letheby & Christopher Chase (2.35pm), with both Exotic Dancer and Star De Mohaison among a superb entry of 16 for the extended three mile, one furlong contest, highlight of Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday, January 24. Exotic Dancer would be attempting to secure his second victory in the Letheby & Christopher Chase, having beaten subsequent dual Grade One winner Our Vic by 18 lengths in 2007. The Jonjo O’Neill-trained nine-year-old went on to finish second to Kauto Star in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup at that year’s Festival and finished his campaign with a bloodless victory in Grade Two company at Aintree.
After a string of fine placed efforts last season, including a good fifth behind Denman in chasing’s Blue Riband, Exotic Dancer finally gained a deserved Grade One success on his latest start on December 28, when he defeated the 2006 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup hero War Of Attrition in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
Sir Robert’s Racing Manager, Barry Simpson, commented: “We have entered Exotic Dancer and Star De Mohaison in the Letheby & Christopher Chase and it is quite possible that both horses could line up in the race. We will almost certainly have one runner and we might have two. “We were delighted with Exotic Dancer’s victory in the Lexus Chase and, on his day, he’s a difficult horse to beat. “I think that we saw the very best of him at Leopardstown, whereas he didn’t really run his race in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, when he finished third. Tony (McCoy) was never happy with the pace of the Betfair Chase and he needs a fast pace, like he got in the Lexus Chase.
“There is a school of thought that Exotic Dancer is not a true three and a quarter mile horse and we have given him an entry in both the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase. “At the moment, Voy Por Ustedes is our main hope in the Ryanair Chase, but we need to keep our options open. All our horses are doubly entered at the moment and we will play it by ear leading up to The Festival.”
The lightly-raced Star De Mohaison, who holds an entry in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, could also stake his Festival claims in the Letheby & Christopher Chase, having been a half-length second on his first appearance over fences for over two years in the Listed Boylepoker.com Chase at the Boylesports International on December 12. The Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old had previously enjoyed a terrific first season over fences in 2005/06, culminating in victories in the RSA Chase at The Festival in March and in the John Smith’s Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree the following month.
Simpson continued: “We earmarked Star De Mohaison for this race some time ago and he’s in very good shape. Paul has been thrilled with him and he should run a very big race. “He is not going to carry any penalties which makes the Letheby & Christopher Chase such an attractive option, especially as he seems to run well around Cheltenham. “We will keep one eye on the weather and if the ground becomes very testing, then Star De Mohaison might not take his chance. He is very much a good to soft ground horse and we wouldn’t want to run him on heavy going.” The Letheby & Christopher Chase is a key trial for horses looking to triumph in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, with three of the past 13 winners having gone on to Festival glory in chasing’s Blue Riband, including See More Business, who was part-owned by Sir Robert Ogden when taking the Letheby & Christopher Chase for a second time in 2001.
This year’s entry also includes Albertas Run, who chased home Kauto Star in the Grade One King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, as well as last year’s The Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase winner Tidal Bay, who was second to Nozic in the Grade Three Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby on the same day. The first two home in this season’s Paddy Power Gold Cup, Imperial Commander and Barbers Shop, may also return to Cheltenham for the first time since The Open, and the pair could be joined by Joe Lively, who defeated Halcon Genelardais in the Servo Computers Services Trophy Handicap Chase at the same meeting. Peter Bowen has engaged Snoopy Loopy, who had Exotic Dancer back in third when prevailing in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November and currently leads the Order of Merit.
Last year’s winner Knowhere may also return to Prestbury Park and the 11-year-old, who went on to finish sixth in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, could be joined by stablemate Ollie Magern, while David Pipe, responsible for last year’s runner-up Our Vic, has entered An Accordion, successful in the William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase at The Festival on his latest appearance. The 2007 Welsh National hero Miko de Beauchene, Grade Two scorer Monkerhostin, and last season’s RSA Chase runner-up Roll Along complete the 16-strong entry.