Road to Cheltenham: O’Brien jnr. could be on for Festival double

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He may not even have a license just yet, but it could be the case that Joseph O’Brien is welcomed into the training ranks with a Cheltenham Festival double.

The Derby-winning jockey has turned his hand to training this winter, and while he officially is assistant to his father Aidan, he looks to be building up a solid stable of his own.

While he is unsure of whether he will be granted a license to run horses in his name at Prestbury Park, O’Brien Jnr. will certainly be delighted with the options the Ballydoyle team have for Cheltenham.

Aspen Colorado doubled the team’s tally of strong Festival hopes at the weekend after maintaining his unbeaten record in bumpers with a hard-fought victory at Leopardstown.

Sent off at 2/7 favourite, connections would have been hoping for a more authoritative victory than his half-length success, but regardless the four-year-old comes out of the race with his record showing two wins from two outings.

The front two in that race pulled clear of the rest and a quick look at the son of Galileo’s previous victory reads well, with the horse he beat over four lengths into second, Without Limites, going on to win by 12 lengths next time out.

His odds for the Champion Bumper were clipped in from 10/1 to 8/1 after his latest win and he’ll go to the Festival with a huge chance.

The O’Brien’s could have a double in on the Cheltenham card two days later.

Ivanovich Gorbatov was pushed out to 6/1 after tasting defeat at Leopardstown last month, but subsequent events mean he has shortened right back up to 3/1 favouritism without being seen on a racecourse.

The latest twist came at Kempton when Alan King’s Gibralfaro was bitterly disappointing in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle on Saturday.

The trainer was at a lost to explain the run, but whatever the reason, the Dalakhani gelding was shoved out from 8/1 to 16/1 for the juvenile event at the Festival.

Victor at the weekend, Zubayr, was making his debut for Paul Nicholls, having been a costly purchase from France where he had twice run on the flat.

His three-and-three-quarter-length triumph was more impressive than the numbers suggest and saw the horse slashed into 6/1 for Festival success (from 16/1).

Zarkandar took the Adonis before going on to Triumph Hurdle glory for Nicholls back in 2011 and the Ditcheat team will be hopeful of doing the double again with last weekend’s winner.

They will though, have to usurp the O’Briens and their highly-fancied charge who will undoubtedly improve for better ground at the Festival.

All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.