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Handicapper watch: Drying ground points to big run from Attaglance

Malcolm Jefferson had not trained a Cheltenham festival winner for 17 years prior to 2012. You had to go back to the classy Dato Star winning the Champion Bumper in 1995.

He ended the drought in spectacular fashion by striking through Cape Tribulation (Pertemps Final) and Attaglance (Martin Pipe Hurdle). Both horses then followed up at Aintree the following month.

While Cape Tribulation has gone on to win a Rowland Meyrick and an Argento Chase, Attaglance is yet to return to winning ways. However, there are reasons for believing his turn is not too far away.

He started his season by finishing a length and three-quarters second to Double Ross at Perth. He followed that up by finishing a fine fourth behind Johns Spirit in the valuable Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

He stuck on gamely up the Cheltenham hill and went into many notebooks as a leading contender for the December Gold Cup over course and distance. He failed to reproduce that effort and trailed in a distant ninth, again behind the progressive Double Ross.

Jefferson gave him a break after that disappointing run and he reappeared over hurdles at Musselburgh in February. The going was softer than he likes and he weakened out of contention from the third last, eventually finishing fifth.

Connections will be delighted to hear that the going is drying out at Prestbury Park as Attaglance prepares to take his chance in Tuesday’s Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase. He is set to race of 137, a mark 11lbs lower than his current rating over hurdles.

Jefferson plans to run three horses at the festival with Firth Of The Clyde running in the Byrne Group Plate and Urban Hymn taking his chance in the Albert Bartlett. Firth Of The Clyde won at Wetherby and Market Rasen prior to finishing a close third at Kelso last month.

He was staying on well at the finish and may have each-way claims with just 10st 3lb to carry. Urban Hymn only just scraped home in a Grade 2 at Doncaster in January but Jefferson is optimistic that better ground will bring about some improvement.

The son of Robin Des Champs has only been beaten once in four starts when second to Spirit of Shankly in November. Jefferson is confident that the horse can mix it with the likes of King’s Palace and Briar Hill and he should not be under-estimated.