Under starters order for Cheltenham chat in Minerstown and Belfast

Thistlecrack will be top of the agenda at the Cheltenham Festival preview nights as connections wait on the results of a scan before deciding whether or not he goes for the Gold Cup
Martin McGoran

IT will be hard to know where to start when jump racing enthusiasts congregate at the various Cheltenham preview nights around Ireland and the UK.

Every day brings a different story in the week before Cheltenham. Riding arrangements for JP McManus's big hopes and the Thistlecrack 'will he or won't he run in the Gold Cup' saga will no doubt be to the forefront but don't be surprised if these are superceded by some other drama between now and 1.30pm on March 13.

The Sean-Graham/Irish News sponsored event at the Europa Hotel takes place on Monday, March 6, while this Saturday (March 4) at the Minerstown Tavern in Co Down there will be a 'Cheltenham Chinwag' in aid of the Jonjo Bright Trust.

Double Gold Cup-winning trainer Noel Chance will be airing his views, along with leading local trainer Colm McBratney and leading amateur jockey Declan Lavery. Local television personality, Pamela Ballantine will compere the afternoon's events, which will begin at the conclusion of the nearby Tyrella point-to-point meet.

It is hoped that top point-to-point rider Jamie Codd will also be there to liven up proceedings.

Codd is still weighing up his riding options at this year's Festival.

He has a terrific record at the showpiece meeting, having won the Kim Muir Handicap Chase for the last two seasons, and will once again be in much demand for the amateur races.

He expects to partner ante-post favourite On The Fringe in the Foxhunter Chase, but plans are otherwise fluid.

There will be complimentary stew and sandwiches upon arrival, and although there's no official entrance fee, it's hoped that all in attendance will throw a few quid in lieu of entrance fee to the Trust.

Organisers have also secured 16x£25 Charity Bets for the Festival, (4 each from Toals, Pat O'Hare, Bar One and Sean Graham Bookmakers) and will be getting various racing celebs including Gordon Elliott, Richard Johnson and Davy Russell to give their proverbial 'good things' for the meeting.

Any winnings from these charity bets will go to the Trust.

The event is sponsored by Jim Monaghan Car Sales.

The final line-up for the Europa Hotel has also yet to be finalised, though regulars such as top trainer Gordon Elliott, jockey Noel Fehily and commentator Richard Hoiles will be there to give their insight. Tickets are still available at all Sean Graham offices.

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