Martin Hannan: Mirage Dore offers more than an illusory chance for tartan glory

IT'S NOT often that Scottish trainers go to Cheltenham with a real chance of place money, never mind winning, and indeed Scotland's last winner at the Festival was Len Lungo's Freetown who landed a gamble in the Pertemps Hurdle final of 2002. Since then, the kilted brigade at Cheltenham have had little to celebrate, but on Wednesday in the Coral Cup handicap hurdle there is a Scottish-trained horse with an outstanding each-way chance.

What's more, there is a strong connection to Freetown and the possibility of a bit of a fairy story should Mirage Dore win in the hands of her regular rider, that very fine lady jockey formerly known as Rose Davidson.

For the daughter of Mirage Dore's owner, millionaire builder Duncan Davidson, is now Mrs Rose Dobbin, wife of the former Grand National-winning jockey Tony who was aboard Freetown for that memorable victory seven years ago.

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Mirage Dore has a lot going for him. Mrs Dobbin gave him a well-judged ride to beat hotpot Fair Along, who goes for the Ladbroke World Hurdle, in a solid handicap over the course and distance last October, so his stamina should not be an issue. He prefers goodish ground, and that looks likely for Wednesday. He goes well fresh and has had 144 days off, and his stable is also in fine form – always a good pointer to possible success.

Milnathort trainer Lucinda Russell is in the midst of a cracking season, though she hopefully used up a year's bad luck at Ayr on Friday when she had a winner disqualified, two horses fell and another unseated its rider while in a winning position.

Russell was on the 26-winner mark for the season before yesterday's races, well on course to beat her seasonal best of 32. Her partner and assistant trainer, Peter Scudamore, one of the all-time great National Hunt jockeys, knows what it takes to win at Cheltenham, and the whole Russell team are quietly confident about the chances of Mirage Dore.

"He is a delight to train," said Russell, "but he goes best on good ground so when he won at Cheltenham in October we decided to put him away until the Spring.

"He's in really good shape and is in the race off 10 stone. We know he will stay and he liked the course last time, when he beat Fair Along who has since done so well.

"I ride him most days and I feel he is in very good form. Hopefully the race will be run to suit him and with a bit of luck he must have a real each-way chance."

At present odds of 16-1, Mirage Dore does indeed look a very good each-way bet, and could have Scottish bookmakers squealing. The big chains expect up to half-a-billion quid to be wagered on the Festival, and they will pocket the majority of it because people will insist on betting no hopers and there will also be a couple of surprise results most days – but not in the championship races.

Those who have been following our briefings in the run-up to Cheltenham know we have just one race to profile in the 'safety first' approach to betting at the National Hunt Festival, in which the statistics have told us to concentrate on fancied horses in the big races. The staying hurdlers' championship, the Ladbroke World Hurdle, has been won in three of the past four years by Inglis Drever, but Howard Johnson's star has retired to leave the way clear for last year's second, French hope Kasbah Bliss, to go one better.

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Trained by Francois Doumen, Kasbah Bliss improved massively last season and any attempts to knock the French horse's form are simply crazy. This is a hurdler who was good enough on the Flat to win the Group 3 Prix Gladiateur at Longchamp in September. He then came out less than a month later and finished ahead of the mighty Ascot Gold Cup champion Yeats in the Group 1 Prix du Cadran, also at Longchamp – that's cracking form by any standards.

On his seasonal re-appearance over the sticks, Kasbah Bliss scooted up in the Blue Square Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock last month, just as he did before finishing a gallant second – well clear of the rest – to Inglis Driver in last year's World Hurdle. Only really heavy ground might stop him from being at his best next Thursday, though both Nicky Henderson's Punchestowns and Paul Nicholls' Big Buck's will lay a serious claim to the stayer's crown.

But I believe the Doumen horse will be in perfect nick for the big race and will win, which makes my selections for the championship races as follows: Gold Cup - Kauto Star; Champion Hurdle - Binocular; World Hurdle - Kasbah Bliss; Champion Chase - Master Minded.

At 1-3, Master Minded offers no value, so I have looked to replace him with another big fancy in a grade 1 race, and am plumping for the brilliant Ascot Chase victor Voy Por Ustedes, winner of the Arkle in 2006, the Champion Chase in 2007 and clear second in the latter race last year.

Alan King's stable star could not have been more impressive in winning at Ascot last month – and his Scots-born trainer says he is in great form coming into the Festival

The big race Yankee Bet of six doubles, four trebles and an accumulator will thus be Kauto Star, Voy Por Ustedes, Binocular and Kasbah Bliss. At the present ante-post odds of 7-4, 11-10, 5-4, and 11-10 respectively, a 1 Yankee for a total stake of 11 would win you more than 100.

Add that to an each-way investment on Mirage Dore and it could be a cracking Cheltenham ahead.