Burke on Hunt for more Cheltenham glory

Trainer Keiran Burke is hoping that stable star Hunt Ball can continue his incredible rise in the £150,000 Paddy Power Gold Cup, the feature race of Cheltenham’s Open meeting on Saturday, November 17.

Race sponsors Paddy Power have opened their book on the extended two and a half-mile handicap chase and installed Hunt Ball as their 8/1 joint-favourite alongside Grade One Racing Post Arkle Chase runner-up Cue Card.

Hunt Ball proved himself to be one of the stories of last season with seven wins that culminated with a stunning eight-length victory at The Festival in the Listed Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase, run over the same course and distance as the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

The seven-year-old started his novice campaign racing off a mark of 69 and ended the season with a fine third in the Grade One Betfred Bowl at Aintree in April – a performance that elevated his official rating to 157.

Burke said: “I am very happy with Hunt Ball. He has come back from the summer bigger and stronger and he looks better than ever.

“I hope there is plenty more to come from him. He has obviously got to improve a fair bit to compete with the big boys, but in his last run at Aintree he was still showing improvement even after the long hard season he had.

“He ran a cracker at Aintree and I think if that had been his fourth or fifth race of the year, he would have probably gone and won as he came there very strongly but was just feeling the effects of a long season towards the end of the race.

“I’m pretty sure there is more improvement to come and he will start this season in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham. I think he probably wants to go further than that, but the Paddy Power Gold Cup will suit him and then after that we will look at all the big races.

“He will go for the King George at Kempton and then the owner has got a lot of money on him for the Gold Cup, so he will probably go there or the Ryanair, but I’m not sure what he will do in between.

“I think he can win the Paddy Power Gold Cup off his mark, but he is not the easiest horse to get fit as he is big horse. He will take a fair bit of work and we will give him a few racecourse gallops beforehand and try and get him as fit as we can.”

Champion Court (10/1) also boasts some excellent form at Cheltenham, having captured a Grade Two novices’ chase on New Year’s Day and finished second in the Grade Two Jewson Novices’ Chase at The Festival, but the seven-year-old may miss the race to concentrate on a King George challenge.

His trainer Martin Keighley reported: “Champion Court has done really well over the summer and we are slowly stepping his work up now. I think he has improved over the summer and he had the longest break of any horse in the yard because he wasn’t right when he ran at Aintree.

“I think he had gone over the top a bit and when he got back we did some tests and he wasn’t quite right, so he did amazingly well to finish second.

“Prior to that, his run at the Festival in the Jewson was brilliant when he bumped into a superstar (Sir Des Champs) who is now favourite for the Gold Cup.

“There is a graduation chase at Kempton on November 5 and I think Champion Court will go there for his first run.

“It would be a big ask for him in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, so I think he will go to Kempton and then one more race in between before a crack at the King George. I think the three miles at Kempton will suit him and he tends to jump a little bit right so you’d think going round there will suit him better.

“He is probably a notch off top-class but he is entitled to improve and take on the best this season. His best form is over two miles, five furlongs so he will probably go for the Ryanair after the King George. However, if he stays really well you never know, he could be a Gold Cup horse.”

Invictus (10/1) also enjoyed a productive first season over fences that culminated with victory in the Grade Two Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

Betfred Cheltenham Cup runner-up The Giant Bolster (12/1) may bid to avenge his early departure in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last year, while Grade Two scorer Silviniaco Conti, last year’s fourth Aerial and Grade One Manifesto Novices’ Chase victor Menorah are also quoted at 12/1.

Entries for the Paddy Power Gold Cup close on Tuesday, October 30, and are announced the next day. The weights are revealed on Wednesday, November 7.

Paddy Power Gold Cup – Paddy Power bet:

8/1 Hunt Ball, Cue Card, 10/1 Champion Court, Invictus 12/1 The Giant Bolster, Aerial, Silviniaco Conti, Menorah, 14/1 For Non Stop, Cristal Bonus, Michel Le Bon, 16/1 Poquelin, 20/1 Quantitativeeasing, Divers, Micheal Flips, Solix, Zaynar, 25/1 Dave’s Dream, Loosen My Load, 33/1 Finger On the Pulse

Each way 1/4 odds, 1,2,3 & 4

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