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Last Updated: 12/03/14 4:53pm
Oscar Whisky: Class hurdler aims to make grade over fences
Connections of Oscar Whisky are convinced his Cheltenham nous could be a defining factor in the JLT Novices' Chase on Thursday.
Nicky Henderson's nine-year-old has won six times from 12 starts at the track, and was also third in the 2011 Champion Hurdle.
Oscar Whisky's chasing career has so far gone smoothly as he has rattled off three victories - two of which came at Cheltenham against fellow JLT contenders Wonderful Charm and Taquin Du Seuil.
Although he had to work harder than expected in the three-runner Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown last month, the ground was extremely demanding in Esher.
Owner Dai Walters said: "He's done well since Sandown and Nicky's very, very happy with him.
"The ground is drying up all the time and that will suit Oscar Whisky. We've always felt he is better on better ground.
"It was terrible at Sandown but Barry (Geraghty, jockey) knew he was always going to win and did well to mind him through the race.
"His record at Cheltenham is excellent and hopefully he can put that to good use again."
The Jonjo O'Neill-trained Taquin Du Seuil defeated Oscar Whisky on his chasing bow at Cheltenham and was a runaway winner of a Grade Two at Haydock in January.
O'Neill said: "He jumps well, needs a good gallop, and has a nice bit of experience behind him as well. We'll have a lot of faith behind him.
"I am very happy with my fellow and, last time, there was not much between him and Oscar Whisky (three-quarters of a length) at Cheltenham and they were some 15 lengths ahead of the third.
"He jumps well, he travels well and he does everything well.
"Hopefully we'll get a proper gallop at Cheltenham."
Wonderful Charm is the highest-rated horse in the line-up and was giving away 8lb when second to Oscar Whisky in a Cheltenham novice chase in December.
Trainer Paul Nicholls told Betfair: "He's had a great season and it was good to go to Cheltenham to give him experience (of the track), giving all that weight away (to Oscar Whisky).
"We purposely kept him fresh over the winter while the ground was bad.
"Good to soft is fine, but the better the ground, the better he is. He loves to be fresh."
Off The Ground has won his last two races, both at Doncaster, in the manner of a rapidly-improving horse.
Emma Lavelle's eight-year-old will appreciate the good ground, according to his owners, the Axom racing syndicate.
Axom racing manager Dan Downie said: "The ground has come in his favour. It's a huge race and he has to improve a lot.
"He hasn't run since December for no other reason than he hasn't had his ground. I'm pleased for him that the ground should be on the good side."
Double Ross has already won two Grade Threes at Cheltenham this season and only succumbed to Wishfull Thinking back at Prestbury Park in January.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: "He loves the track, he's won twice and been second once, he'll put his best foot forward.
"He'll go on any ground, it's just a question of whether he will be good enough."
Willie Mullins fires three shots across the bows in Felix Yonger, the mount of Ruby Walsh, Mozoltov and Djakadam.
The County Carlow handler told his website, www.wpmullins.com: "Felix Yonger is definitely better on decent ground and the heavy last time found him out. After his last run we felt the longer trip suits better."
"I think Mozoltov could be an interesting prospect as I don't think we have seen the best of him.
"I didn't bring Djakadam over to Cheltenham last season as I felt he was too inexperienced and he would improve with time. He looks a real natural at his fences but he is still a little inexperienced. He is a horse with a big future."
Harry Fry believes the two-and-a-half-mile trip could be made to measure for Vukovar, a bloodless winner at Newbury in December on just his second start for the yard.
The Dorset handler said: "There's been plenty been said about him already but he's a lovely, big horse that we're lucky to have in the yard.
"We view him as a stayer in the making, which is why he's stepping up in trip. We're hoping for a big run."
Alan King plans to adopt more positive tactics with Uxizandre, who had won on his first two tries over fences but was well beaten at Warwick last month.
The Barbury Castle handler told his website, www.alankingracing.co.uk: " I think we rode him wrong at Warwick last time. He had top weight so we tried to drop him in and get him to settle and it disappointed him a little bit.
"He was also very fresh on his first run for three months so he has got that out of his system and Choc (Robert Thornton) will ride him a lot handier.
"It is a good race, but it appears wide open and on his earlier form he deserves to take his chance.
Sizing Gold, trained by Henry de Bromhead, and big outsider Captain Ocana complete the 12-strong field.