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Handicapper watch: Waaheb weighted for Coral Cup coup?

JP McManus is no stranger to success in the Coral Cup having won it with Time For A Run (1994) and Khayrawani (1999). Could he be plotting another success with the formerly top-rated hurdler Waaheb?

The seven-year-old began his career with three bumper victories before losing the Champion Bumper at Punchestown by a short head to Lovethehigherlaw. Although disappointed to be beaten, connections still had high hopes of Waaheb for his first season over hurdles.

He was impressive enough at Fairyhouse to earn single-figure quotes for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham but met his match in Jezki next time out. A bad mistake at the second last proved costly as he was beaten six lengths by Jessica Harrington’s horse.

JP was so impressed that he bought the winner shortly afterwards. Waaheb took a heavy fall at the second at Leopardstown in February last year and has struggled to regain his confidence.

He was well beaten behind Un De Sceaux at Punchestown last April and was put away for this season. A promising second at Navan was followed by a reasonable run against the high-class stayer Rule The World at Naas in October.

His most recent start was in a conditions race at Cork where he wore cheek pieces for the first time. He settled well for Mark Walsh and was not extended to beat Turban by a length and a half in heavy ground.

His only entry at the Cheltenham festival is the two and a half mile Coral Cup in which he is set to carry 11st. His official handicap rating has dropped to 140, some 26lbs lower than Jezki.

There is insufficient evidence to say that he retains the ability that he showed as a novice but the fact that Dermot Weld has left him in here could be significant. If the combination of the cheek pieces and the better ground bring about further improvement, there could be worse 16-1 shots.

Coral are NR – no bet on all Cheltenham festival races.