County crown on menu for Sussex duo

Via Galilei, centre, will launch an outside bid for County Hurdle glory
Via Galilei, centre, will launch an outside bid for County Hurdle glory
Minellatillmorning won the Happy Birthday Sarah Cotty Handicap Hurdle. Picture: Fontwell Park

Balding celebrates Glory at Fontwell

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Nick Gifford and Gary Moore are bidding to land a golden gamble at the Cheltenham Festival this afternoon.

The West Sussex trainers are both set to saddle outsiders in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle as the meeting heads towards a thrilling climax.

Dee Ee Williams and Via Galilei will carry their respective challenges in the Grade 3 contest (2.05pm).

The former – rated 140 – was well held when eighth behind Sire De Grugy at Taunton last time out.

Quotes of around 66/1 look fair, with the handicapper taking a firm grip of the nine-year-old son of Dushyantor.

But Gifford will be hoping his charge – who already has one course success to his name – has another big run inside him.

Moore’s contender – Via Galilei – has a similar profile.

Without a win since running off a mark of 121 a year ago, the seven-year-old Galileo gelding has it all to do at the weights.

But at 33/1 in a fierce Festival showdown, a place is not out of the question. Whatever happens, they will be determined to whet the appetite of punters ahead of the main course – the Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20pm).

The blue riband event of the Festival, the Grade 1 chase will see reigning champion Long Run renew his rivalry with dual winner Kauto Star.

The latter has won the past two meetings between the pair but, crucially, Long Run got the upper hand at Cheltenham a year ago.

And despite trainer Paul Nicholls passing him fit to run, doubts remain over Kauto Star’s fitness after a crashing fall at home recently.

Add to that Nicky Henderson’s relentless form this week – six winners so far – and Long Run will no doubt be the popular pick.

But Kauto Star has regained his title once before (2009) and it would be naive to write the legendary 12-year-old off.

Racing begins with the JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm) – which includes 2011 National Spirit Hurdle champion Celestial Halo among its former winners.

Barbers Shop goes for gold in the Foxhunters’ Challenge Cup at 4pm – having qualified for the contest with victory at Fontwell last month.

Conditional jockeys take to the course in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle at 4.40pm.

The four-day extravaganza will then conclude with the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup (5.15pm).

Henderson, who is sure to be crowned leading trainer at the Festival, is set to saddle six challengers in the Grade 3 race named after his father.

They will be topped by the 162-rated French Opera.