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Cheltenham Festival 2015: Coral Cup Preview (14:40)

The Coral Cup is one of the most competitive handicaps at the Festival, and with the sponsors paying five places Lac Fontana look decent each-way value in this year’s renewal of the 2m 5f contest (14:40).

Trained by Paul Nicholls, this gelding is a classy sort who has won three of his six starts at the track.

They include a game success in the 28-runner 2m 1f County Handicap Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago, where Lac Fontana stayed on strongly to beat Arctic Fire by 1/2 a length off a mark of 139.

The six-year-old went on to follow up in a Grade 1 contest over 2m 4f at Aintree off an official rating of 148, where he had two of today’s rivals – Dell’ Arca and Volnay De Thaix – in behind.

That is strong form, and although Lac Fonata was not at his best last time out the son of Shirocco had previously ran well to finish third to Faugheen in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot.

The good ground and 2m 5f trip today should be right up Lac Fontana’s street and, although he has to defy a career-high mark of 151, connections have shrewdly booked the services of promising jockey Sean Bowen whose claim takes an invaluable 5lb off his back.

Bowen has a 22 per cent strike rate for the yard (four wins and five placed from 14 rides) and, taking his claim into account, Lac Fontana is weighted to run a big race at a Cheltenham track which clearly suits.

Irish trainer Tony Martin landed a monster gamble with Xenophon in the 2003 running of this contest and his handicap runners always command the utmost respect.

He saddles Blackmail and Marinero, and the latter looks the number one hope.

The six-year-old has only had three starts over hurdles ,and after opening his account at Fairyhouse ran well to finish third to subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Douvan in a Grade 2 contrest at Punchestown.

Marinero was then not seen to best effect last time out when fourth at Navan over 2m, but was tenderly handled and the step up in trip today looks sure to suit.

An opening handicap mark of 138 could well be on the lenient side given Marinero’s unexposed profile, and it would be no surprise to see him put in a a really bold showing.