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Cheltenham: Katarino back in Festival picture; Ashley Park and Blue Royal in line for Champion after workouts.

OPPOSITION to Istabraq is mounting in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle after it emerged yesterday that Katarino, Blue Royal and Ashley Park are now on course for the race.

Katarino entered the picture after satisfying his connections in a two-mile workout with Stormyfairweather at Newbury racecourse yesterday morning.

Last season's Elite Racing Club Triumph Hurdle hero, who flopped on his latest start in the National Spirit Trophy at Fontwell, re-emerged as a Festival contender.

Nicky Henderson is pointing his five-year-old towards the two-mile championship and a clash with 2-7 favourite Istabraq rather than the Bonusprint Stayers' Hurdle or a race at Aintree.

Accompanied by Coral Cup hope Capitaine Leau, Katarino and Stormyfairweather worked two miles. Mick Fitzgerald raised the tempo on Katarino in the last half-mile and his mount kept pulling out extra to repel Stormyfairweather under John Kavanagh.

After the work, and a discussion with his jockeys, Henderson said: "Katarino won't be going for the Stayers' and if he runs at Cheltenham it will definitely be a crack at the Champion.

"He came back from Fontwell with a cut on his hoof, but while the vet felt it was relevant to his display, in only two days he was perfectly sound.

"Some people think he's not as good as he was, but his first run back in France tells me he is, and he was suffering from a blood disorder when he was beaten on his other start this season."

In another workout, Blue Royal booked his ticket for the Champion as he put Stayers' Hurdle candidate Bacchanal in his place.

Henderson added: "Blue Royal just needed it in the Tote Gold Trophy, but he's got the pace to run in the Champion."

Mark Pitman worked a group of horses after racing at Newbury on Saturday, including Ashley Park, who bypassed the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton with a bruised foot.

"He looks more likely to run than not," said Pitman.

Hors La Loi will have a final gallop on Wednesday morning before a decision is made to run him in either the Champion or the Stayers' Hurdle.

Trainer Franois Doumen, said: "Hors La Loi is doing very well and has improved enormously for his Wincanton run."

Dean Gallagher, who will be aboard for Hors La Loi's gallop, was in action at Auteuil, notching two third places.

First he partnered Mister Ange, who found Turnium (43-10) four lengths too good in the pounds 25,937 Prix Beugnot, a

21/4-mile handicap hurdle.

Then he rode Paul Green's For More, who was third behind 2-1 winner Silver Break in the pounds 11,527 Prix Souviens-Toi, a conditions hurdle over the same trip.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Morrice, Neil
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 6, 2000
Previous Article:Cheltenham Festival: Architect still a contender for the Triumph Hurdle.
Next Article:Cheltenham: Conditional riders to miss Festival.

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