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O'Neill set to break out the Champagne.

Cheltenham will be the focus of attention next week and local trainer Owen O'Neill can set the ball rolling for Gloucestershire with Champagne Friend at Towcester today.

O'Neill, who trains at Cleeve Hill, overlooking Cheltenham, saw this mare nearly cause a 50-1 shock on her first appearance for 12 months at Ludlow recently and although she will not be that price today, there is every reason to believe she can step up on that run.

Champagne Friend did not have a friend in the market at Ludlow, but the punters ended up wishing they had been on even at each-way as the mare made the Martin Pipe-trained Serendipity pull out all the stops to take the verdict by a head.

Always travelling well, Champagne Friend was stoked up at the home turn, going passed Scarrots and Iamus and making Serendipity work hard for his victory.

Her breeding suggests that she will require a test of stamina and O'Neill sends her out over two miles five furlongs today.

Henrietta Knight has her team in good order during the build-up to the Festival and Ramallah can underline the point in the John Webber Memorial Novices Chase.

Ramallah put up his best performance of the season so far over course and distance at the beginning of February.

In touch with the leaders throughout and given a patient ride by Jim Culloty, Ramallah went to the head of affairs three out and then soon put daylight between himself and his tiring rivals.

He was a disappointment last time when only finishing second, but can put the record straight here.

At Wincanton, Spy Knoll can land the Seavington Maiden Hurdle for Philip Hedger. A winner on the Flat, he was bought out of Michael Stoute's yard for 30,000 guineas and certainly shaped up well enough on his debut at Fontwell.

Although not very fluent in his jumping, he eased his way to the front at the second-last, but did not find a great deal after the final flight and eventually finished third.

His one bad run on the Flat was put down to soft ground and with a sounder surface this time, he could open his account.

The West Midlands Racing Club will be holding their Cheltenham Festival Preview at the Ansells Brewery Sports and Social Club, Wellhead Lane, Perry Barr tonight.

The evening, which starts at 7.45 and costs pounds 3 for members, pounds 6 for non-members, is always highly informative and the panel this year will include trainer Paul Webber, together with racing journalists Ian Carnaby and Mark Winstanley.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 12, 1998
Words:428
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