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The Cheltenham Festival is now just a week away and anticipation is certainly mounting ahead of the Greatest Show on Turf.
A host of top-class action awaits us at Prestbury Park and here our NAP of the meeting...
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 2:50 - DEATH DUTY 5/2
Gordon Elliott's charge has looked a horse to follow ever since winning a point-to-point at Cragmore in February 2015 by 15 lengths. Snapped up by Gigginstown House Stud, the son of Shantou excelled in bumpers last season, finishing third on his rules debut before slamming his rivals by 16 lengths in his second start under rules at Down Royal, before narrowly defeating Our Duke who has gone on to prove himself a top-class staying chaser, by half-a-length at Navan in December 2016. Second on his final bumper start when conceding weight to Blow By Blow, Death Duty has come of age this season over hurdles.
A horse full of scope, he was always going to improve for the switch to hurdles and one day chasing. Over the smaller obstacles this term, Elliott's six-year-old gelding was by eight lengths on his hurdling debut at Roscommon under Ruby Walsh before taking the step up to graded company in his stride with a seven and a half-length victory at Navan in November.
That performance really earmarked him as a potential Cheltenham contender and he went on to justify the hype with a facile three and three-quarter length win in a Grade Two event under Bryan Cooper at Navan in which he accounted for smart gelding Monalee who has since gone on to win a graded contest himself. Death Duty impressed with the way he travelled that day and jumped with great fluency over his hurdles.
However, the Irish-bred gelding's best performance to date was most certainly his victory in Grade One company in the Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas in January. Over two-miles and four-furlong, the heavily supported 5/6 favourite travelled well in mid-division throughout the contest and stealthily made progress to take the lead approaching the final flight.
However, under Jack Kennedy, the gelding was joined by Willie Mullins' Augusta Kate who looked to be travelling well before she fell at the last hurdle which prevented racing fans from seeing a great finish. Ruby Walsh on Augusta Kate and Kennedy were both adamant they would have won that day but Death Duty stood up and made it four wins from four over hurdles.
Now he heads for Cheltenham where he is a strong favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. Run over three miles, Death Duty's owners, Gigginstown House Stud, have a decent record in this race having won it with RSA Chase winner Weapon's Amnesty in 2009 and Noel Meade's Very Wood in 2014.
Death Duty should massively appreciate the step-up to three miles for this contest which has in the past turned into a bit of a slog with some of these young horses failing to get home over a punishing three miles at Jump Racing's HQ.
Death Duty looks a stayer through and through and whilst Wholestone, a multiple winner at Cheltenham this year and Colin Tizzard's West Approach, who was an excellent second behind Unowhatimeanharry in the Cleeve Hurdle last time are dangers, Death Duty should have their measure.
In a recent interview, Elliott described his gelding as "A fair one. At this stage, of all the good horses I have had, none of them were as good as this fella over hurdles." High praise from Elliott which makes me even more hopeful that Death Duty can punish his rivals at this year's Cheltenham Festival.
Words By: Danny Archer
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