Oscara Dara sets sights on Festival

Very rarely do I back ante-post, but I have had a few pounds on Oscara Dara to win the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in under six weeks' time, and today I expect him to take the next step up the ladder in the William Hill Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las.

The price I took, which is still available, was 25-1 which was fair, and some firms are now 'Non-runner no bet' which makes plenty of appeal, let me explain.

If he wins today, as I think he will, he will shorten straightaway, but if he gets beat he won't run and I get my money back.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, the eight-year-old was a very impressive winner last time out at Kempton Park and, despite being up a stone in the weights, can continue his progression.

I do think he will be suited by better ground, but if he wins this off a mark of 154 it will bring him in to the reckoning for Cheltenham glory.

With regular jockey Barry Geraghty in action at Sandown, Henderson hasn't got a bad replacement in the shape of 17-time champion AP McCoy taking the ride!

The reason Geraghty is at Sandown is the very exciting Captain Conan who prepares to tackle a longer distance for the first time in the Betfred Mobile Lotto Challengers Novices' Chase.

The high-class novice hurdler has been hugely impressive in his two starts over fences to date, making a winning debut over the larger obstacles at Cheltenham in November before landing the Grade One Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in December.

In any other season, Nicky Henderson would surely be preparing his six-year-old for a tilt at the Arkle Trophy at next month's Cheltenham Festival, but with formidable stable companion Simonsig a red-hot favourite for the two-mile novice championship, the trainer is keen to find out if Captain Conan's stamina will last out over further.

If he does prove two and a half miles is within his compass this weekend, Cheltenham's Jewson Novices' Chase is likely to be his next port of call.

"I'm looking forward to riding him again and I honestly don't see the trip being a problem," said the jockey.

"I know he's shown some very good form at two miles, but I actually think two and a half miles will turn out to be his best trip.

"I'd have no concerns about the ground. It was soft enough when he won the last day, so we'll see what happens."

Despite facing only three rivals in a race better known as the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, Captain Conan will have to be on his game if he is to keep his unbeaten record over fences intact.

Closer to home, there is a interesting seven race card at Wetherby and Fourjacks makes plenty of appeal in the Towtown Novices' Chase at 3.20pm.

The lightly-raced eight-year-old has had a productive season, winning in very testing ground over hurdles and likewise over fences over course and distance on his last start.

Trained outside Malton by Tim Easterby, Brian Harding take the ride once again, lets hope it's a winning one!

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