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Last Updated: 13/03/14 12:14pm
Kings Palace: Takes on Briar Hill
Connections of Kings Palace are confident Briar Hill will not have things all his own way in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.
Willie Mullins is aiming for a clean sweep in the novice hurdles after wins for Vautour in the Supreme and Faugheen in the Neptune.
Stablemate Briar Hill heads the betting for the Albert Bartlett, but until recently Kings Palace was favourite after he looked extremely impressive in a Grade Two over course and distance in December.
Trainer David Pipe has decided to keep his powder dry since then, with this race his sole aim.
"I think the race probably rests between him and Briar Hill," said Pipe. "Our horse travels well at the trip and jumps neatly, which is a big help. I thought he was my best chance at the Festival at the beginning of the week."
Part-owner Harry Drew said: "Kings Palace has looked a natural since day one. His least impressive display was at Fontwell first time out when he had to dig deep as he wasn't quite in his rhythm that day.
"He didn't jump as well as he can in October but he's not a slow horse. He'd have no problem over the Neptune trip and he jumped like a two-miler the last day. He has no issue with the ground, it was nice when he won he last day and he has the action of soft ground horse.
"Everybody is saying Briar Hill is the Mullins banker of the week among the novices, but how impressive have Vautour and Faugheen been? We're rated 156 and Briar Hill is 147 so that suggests he needs to improve a bit.
"Briar Hill is by Shantou and they tend to hit a flat spot. He won't be able to do that with Deputy Dan and Captain Cutter in the field."
Briar Hill is a notoriously lazy worker at home and was an unconsidered 25-1 chance when winning the Champion Bumper last season, but Ruby Walsh has been happy with his preparation.
"He looks great, he's in really good form," said the jockey. "He's three from three over hurdles and won a Grade won at Navan and won at Naas.
"Willie's really happy with him. There's nothing worse than a morning glory, they can only disappoint you. If they are not flashy at home they surprise you."
Mullins is cautiously optimistic of a big run. The County Carlow handler told his website, www.wpmullins.com: "When a horse is unbeaten it is always difficult to gauge how good he is and Briar Hill falls in to that category.
"He was a surprise 25-1 winner of the Champion Bumper last year, but I wasn't at all surprised as he had always looked very useful. This term he is three from three over hurdles including a Grade One and Two among them.
"We know he doesn't mind the hustle and bustle of Cheltenham having won as a bumper horse so he has to be one of our better hopes for the week."
Trainer Sue Smith and jockey Ryan Mania combined to win the Grand National last year with Auroras Encore and are now hoping to add a Cheltenham Festival win to their list of achievements with Blakemount.
The six-year-old was last seen losing out in a photo-finish to the reopposing Urban Hymn in the River Don at Doncaster. Mania believes the northern raider has been overlooked.
"He's been fine since Doncaster but nobody seems to be giving us a chance, that always seems to be the case with the northern horses," said Mania.
"That's not a bad thing, it just means the southerners are even more upset when we beat them! After Doncaster I said he was just about the best horse I'd ridden but then Seeyouatmidnight came out and won the Rendlesham.
"The course should hold no fears for Blakemount and it looks a very open race to me. The favourite looks very short in the betting when you consider the strength in depth."
John Ferguson's Prince Siegfried was a Group Three winner on the Flat and was in the process of giving Irving a race when he fell at the last at Ascot in December. He was well beaten in the rearranged Tolworth when last seen.
"Prince Siegfried showed top-class form on the flat. He won well at Huntingdon and was running very, very well when upsides Irving in a Grade Two at Ascot before he fell," said Ferguson.
"I think they just went a bit quick for him in the Tolworth. I feel he could stay but we won't know until he tries it. He's a very tough horse and I just feel he's the kind of horse, a bit of a character, who might enjoy this."