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Cheltenham Clues - Racing: Cormier sets up jackpot opportunity

Trainer Brian Ellison has his eyes on next week's Cheltenham Festival with Cormier after he landed the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso over the weekend.

The improving six-year-old is destined for the County Hurdle on 18th March, where victory would trigger a £100k bonus payout.

His was one of the standout performances on the Kelso card and we are looking back on that and some of the other major weekend jumps stories.

Cormier good in heat of Morebattle

The bet365 Morebattle Hurdle was the feature race at Kelso on Saturday afternoon and it didn't disappoint. Ellison's Cormier took up the running at the last flight, a long way from home with low sun causing two tests in the home straight to be left out.

He battled hard as Saint D'oroux and Faivoir came to serve it up to him and ultimately won by a length-and-a-half at the line.

Some of the big guns failed to perform - the likes of Metier, Autumn Evening and Buveur D'air well held - but this was no shock for Cormier's supporters.

He'd won a handicap at Cheltenham on Trials Day in January and, despite a 4lb rise, had more to spare on Saturday over Cotswolds runner-up Severance, suggesting he's improving.

Cormier will earn a £100k bonus for connections if he wins any race at the Cheltenham Festival next week and the McCoy Contractors County Hurdle is the race of choice, says Ellison. Cormier is 14/1 to win there and the trainer confirmed the intention is to run.

Emmet Mullins landed the Morebattle last March with The Shunter and bagged the bonus payout when winning over fences in the Cotswolds, though Cormier will stick to the smaller obstacles.

Gentleman to miss Cheltenham

Gentleman De Mee cruised to a facile all-the-way win in the Grade 3 Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan on Saturday, after which trainer Willie Mullins confirmed that he won't be part of his Cheltenham team next week.

Mullins has the likes of Galopin Des Champs at 6/4 in the Turners Novices' Chase and Blue Lord in the Arkle at 7/2 amongst his plethora of exciting up-and-coming chasers.

The Festival's all-time leading trainer had previously hinted Gentleman De Mee wouldn't be going to the Cotswolds and, despite cantering to victory on Saturday, that was made hard and fast.

Instead, the JP McManus-owned Gentleman De Mee is being touted for a step up in trip in a two-and-a-half-mile Grade 1 at Fairyhouse during their Easter Festival next month or, possibly, a Punchestown Festival Grade 1 at two-miles later in the spring.

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Elliott pulls Three Card trick in Wexford bumper

Next week will come too soon for him, but it's worth putting the Gordon Elliott-trained Wexford bumper winner Three Card Brag in the notebook for future reference.

He faced the might of a Willie Mullins hotpot in Dancing City, long odds-on in the Donnelly colours having easily won a point-to-point at Borris House in December.

Patrick Mullins' mount loomed on the scene three-furlongs from home but Three Card Brag served it up to him and got his head in front close home. He's got some excellent jumpers in his pedigree and should prove an exciting recruit to that sphere when the time comes.

Indeed, Dancing City lost little caste in defeat either and the pair are worth keeping tabs on.

Of course, in the more immediate future, next weeks' Champion Bumper in Cheltenham looks set to be a blockbuster Mullins vs. Elliott duel as 10/11 Facile Vega clashes with 11/4 American Mike in the Festival's only race without jumps.

Williams waits to Presse button

Venetia Williams insists no Festival target has been confirmed for L'homme Presse just yet.

The French import has really impressed in recent months as Williams team have consistently shone. He won the Dipper at Cheltenham on New Year's Day and then went and starred in taking out the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown in early February.

Third-placed Pic D'orhy advertised that form since with his win at Kempton in a Grade 2 and L'homme Presse is one of Britain's leading hopes for a novice chasing winner at next week's Festival.

He's 7/2 to win the Turners over two-and-a-half-miles on 17th March, where he could face star Irish pair Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs as things stand.

L'homme Presse also has the option of stepping up to three-miles for the Brown Advisory 24 hours earlier, a race he's 14/1 to win.

Williams suggested over the weekend that ground conditions - and not potential opposition - will be the deciding factor in where L'homme Presse runs.

"It will be a decision based on the ground and you're going to have a look at the Irish horses, but there are strong Irish horses in all of the races," she was quoted by the Racing Post. "If you run away from one, you run into something else."

The Herefordshire handler also added that if L'homme Presse doesn't go up to three-miles next week, he certainly will be heading that way next season.

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