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Cheltenham 2018: declarations for Thursday - & a local duel in the Stayers' Hurdle

Neil King with Lil RockerfellerNeil King with Lil RockerfellerIt was not so much the betting forecasts that mattered on Day One of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, but the weather forecast.  And then the sun shone.

 

It was Cheltenham's heaviest ground for the start of the Festival since 1982.  And there's 'significant' rain forecast for Thursday and Friday - tipping as much as another 10 millimetres onto the course.

Competing for the headline news on Day One probably in a tie between confirmation that Altior is now pretty certain for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday and the return from injury of Ruby Walsh - a return to winning form.

The scare over Altior going lame has passed.  Although trainer Nicky Henderson did not seem quite as sure later in the afternoon as he was with his morning statement.

Ruby Walsh won the Arkle Novices' Chase on Footpad and the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle on Benie des Dieux.  In the latter race Alan King's Midnight Tour stunned the experts by coming home in second place.

Local interest in this afternoon's declarations for Thursday's races concentrated on the seventeen horses going in the three mile Stayers' Hurdle.

This will pitch Neil King trained Lil Rockerfeller against Alan King trained Yanworth - two horses trained on the Barbury Downs.

The popular Lil Rockerfeller was runner-up in the race last year.  But at Ascot in December he faded to sixth place behind Sam Spinner in the Long Walk Hurdle.  And no one is quite sure why - especially as he had won over a shorter trip at Ascot a month earlier.

Then last month, with Trevor Whelan aboard as usual, he came second at Fontwell one-and-a-half lengths behind Old Guard - who also runs on Thursday.  Since joining Neil King's yard in January 2015, he has won five times and come second six times.

Alan King's Yanworth - owned by JP McManus - had a great career over hurdles.  Though he was disqualified during the 2017 Cheltenham Festival for showing a banned substance in a sample.

He then had mixed fortunes over jumps>  he won his first chase, fell in his second, came second in his third -and then won over fences in January at Cheltenham.  Now he is back over hurdles.

Favoured entries in a strong field include Bacardys (Ruby Walsh), L'Ami Serge (Daryl Jacob), Sam Spinner (Joe Colliver) and Supasundae (Robbie Power).

The other local entry is Alan King's Who Dares Wins who will run in the three mile Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.  With Wayne Hutchinson aboard he is third favoured in the betting.

Douvan is declared for the Ryanair Chase - without, so far, a named jockey.  Also runningwill be Un De Sceaux (Ruby Walsh) and Cue Card (Paddy Brennan).

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