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17.15 Cheltenham: Noel’s Ned looks a Grand bet

The Grand Annual brings the curtain down on the 2014 Cheltenham Festival and Ned Butline looks to have the right credentials to secure the prize for Ireland.

Noel Meade’s gelding has always been held in high regard and finished a 3/4 of a length runner-up to Champion Hurdle winner Jezki in a bumper on his racecourse debut at Leopardstown.

He then won two of his four starts over hurdles, but is a slow-maturing type who always looked as if he would come into his own when tackling fences.

The six-year-old ran well on his chasing debut at Navan back in November when finishing third to Ballycasey and then opened his account over the larger obstacles when scoring by a comfortable two lengths in a beginners chase at Navan.

He was then tenderly handled when finding testing conditions against him and finishing runner-up to Mallowney last time out at Naas. He gets into this off an opening handicap mark of 138.

Given his unexposed profile that could well be on the lenient side, and the better ground he now encounters is also likely to see him in a far better light.

Connections are now also fitting him with the hood for the first time and that headgear was sported for the first time by Jezki when he won the Cheltenham Hurdle earlier in the week.

It looks an interesting move given that he is a strong traveller who always doesn’t find as much as expected and if it sharpens him up, he has to go close having sneaked in at the foot of the weights.

The best of the home challenge looks to be Michael Scudamore’s Next Sensation.

The seven-year-old has won three of his last four starts, showing progressive form to keep defying the handicapper.

He put up a career-best performance last time out at Doncaster when making all and winning unchallenged by six lengths from God’s Own and the runner-up gave the form a solid look by chasing home the now 153-rated Balder Succes in the Grade 2 Pendil Chase at Kempton.

That form suggests that Next Sensation could well be up to defying another 9lb rise in the weights and the booking of Richard Johnson really catches the eye.