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WALES: Ascot clash for big rivals.

AIR FORCE ONE and Joe Lively are due to clash in the John Smith's Reynolds town Chase at Ascot on February 16.

With doubts surrounding the participation of Tidal Bay, who could run in the Arkle instead, the pair head the ante-post betting the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase.

Air Force One chased home Wichita Lineman at the Festival last year and has won two from three over fences so far, and trainer Charlie Mann always had hopes he would develop in to a top-class horse.

"He's a very good horse. I bought him in Germany two years ago with the Triumph Hurdle in mind, but he got a splint and we had to put him away," said Mann.

"It probably didn't do him any harm because he is a big horse and I have always thought the world of him.

"We have taken our time with him and I hope we will reap the benefit with him.

"Hopefully, he will go to Ascot next time out and take on Joe Lively so we will know a bit more after that.

"But he needs to step up in grade now because he has only won a small race at Folke stone and a bit better race last time.

"He deals with good ground.

He does handle soft ground, but I wouldn't run him on fast ground, which we shouldn't get at Cheltenham anyway.

"He is on target for the Sun Alliance and I couldn't be more pleased with him," he told At The Races.

Meanwhile, Jonjo O'Neill's Wichita Lineman may head to the Ladbrokes World Hurdle without the aid of another run.

The JP McManus-owned staying hurdler won at the Cheltenham Festival as a novice last year and was expected to emerge as a leading contender to Inglis Drever's superiority.

And while the the seven-year-old has yet to win a race this season, both his runs have been over an inadequate test of stamina.

"He's fine at the minute, but he didn't run in the Cleeve on Saturday because the ground was quite soft and it was a hard race, we didn't want him to have a really hard race just before the Festival," said Frank Berry, racing manager to McManus.

CAPTION(S):

FLYING HIGH Air Force One, above, is set to take on Joe Lively at Ascot next month
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 30, 2008
Words:389
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