McManus runners have the whip hand ahead of the Cheltenham Festival

Legendary gambler JP McManus's string in Ireland & the UK are keeping the revs up ahead of next month's Cheltenham Festival ...

Le-Richebourg-Leopardstown

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If it wasn’t obvious before this weekend that J.P. McManus has his best team of Cheltenham Festival hopes for some time, it was certainly rubber-stamped with the performances of Le Richebourg, Sir Erec and Defi du Seuil.

Each won in a different fashion, but all three moved to the top of their respective Cheltenham Festival ante-post markets, with the feeling being that Le Richebourg has the least to fear from unexposed rivals in his division. He’s beaten the best that Ireland has to offer, on several occasions, and the English challenge looks greater in numbers but lesser in quality.

McManus doesn’t appear to be the sort of person to worry unduly, his investment in the sport unwavering through thick and (relatively) thin, but even he must have been pleased with the way this season has gone so far.

While the strike-rate of his runners has stayed roughly the same in Ireland, total earnings have increased, and it’s a similar situation in the UK but with the added bonus of a strike-rate of 22 per cent, up significantly on last season.

And, perhaps fittingly for horses owned by a renowned gambler, there’s a plus side for punters too, with a level stakes profit (lsp) of +144.51 if backing all his horses in the UK at SP this term.

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2. Truth or d’Air?

Apple’s Jade produced a clear career-best when beating Supasundae by 16 lengths in the Irish Champion Hurdle on Saturday.

Though she was helped by Melon running another stinker, and nothing taking her on for the lead, it was a performance that now puts her ahead of Buveur d’Air on weight-adjusted Timeform ratings for the big one next month.

While you can pick holes in the form without too much investigation, the manner of her victory and effectiveness on all types of ground means that she will probably head to Cheltenham as favourite ahead of the dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur d’Air.

He warmed up for the task himself when easing to victory at Sandown later the same afternoon.

But Buveur d’Air will need to be better than ever to defeat Apple’s Jade.

The only sour point is that this match-up is now only being acknowledged by connections, who had previously refused to consider the possibility that she might run in anything other than the Mares’ Hurdle. Surely it’s easier to say ‘we are leaving all options open’ and treat punters with a bit more respect?

La-Bague-Au-Roi

3. Great-rex bit of training

Flogas winner La Bague Au Roi was the only highlight at Leopardstown for British trainers, and it’s testament to Warren Greatrex and connections who targeted this race rather than the Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown 24 hours earlier.

Greatrex knows all about Cheltenham winners, but has suggested that the mare – who is unbeaten over fences – will head to Aintree’s big meeting rather than Prestbury Park. That looks wise, given she’s not been at her best in Gloucestershire previously, and let’s hope connections don’t get tempted nearer the time.

Sunday’s race wasn’t a strong renewal by any means, mainly due to the absence of Delta Work, who missed it on account of the ground.

Ante-post punters for Cheltenham shouldn’t be worried though, as he’s won on all types of going in the past, and his form even received a boost when Le Richebourg – who he beat in the Drinmore – strutted his stuff in the Irish Arkle.

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