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Coney Island all set for Ascot but Harty still has open mind about Gold Cup bid

Coney Island is not the finished article yet according to trainer Eddie Harty, who says the Ryanair Chase remains a realistic option at next month's Cheltenham Festival despite the fact he is as short as 8-1 for the Timico-backed Gold Cup. 

The seven-year-old will return to Berkshire on Saturday for the Betfair Ascot Chase, a race Harty has hailed "a cracker containing five proper Grade 1 performers", and his performance there is likely to determine his Cheltenham target. 

"There are five in there, including my fella, who are proper Grade 1 performers," said Harty.

"Frodon has not won a Grade 1 yet but he looks like a Grade 1 horse, as does Waiting Patiently, who is very much on an upward curve. Top Notch is a very good horse and Cue Card needs no introduction. It really is a cracker.

"With regard to Cheltenham, there are still a lot of imponderables. He's in the Ryanair and Gold Cup and I've an open mind as to where we go. I've no preference. 

"Whether the Gold Cup is for him this year or next year, I'm not sure yet. We'll get Saturday out of the way first and see how he goes."

A Grade 1-winning novice chaser last season following an emphatic victory in the Drinmore, Coney Island returned with a bang at Ascot in December when giving Adrien Du Pont 11lb and a nine-length beating. He is now rated 162 but Harty is convinced the best is yet to come.

 

"He's still only seven and probably not the finished article yet," he said. "I'd say he'll be the finished article this time next year. He still has a bit of filling out to do." 

Cue Card's trainer Colin Tizzard agrees with Harty that Saturday's feature is building up into a pre-Cheltenham cracker.

The hugely popular 12-year-old will bid to win the Grade 1 for a third time following his triumphs in 2013 and 2017, and Tizzard, who has yet to finalise riding arrangements, with Harry Cobden likely to be needed by Paul Nicholls at Wincanton, said: "It's a proper race this time. Perhaps it wasn't last year.

"Cue Card is in wonderful form. He still works like a good horse, and jumps well. It's still early in the week and plans can change. We'll have to find out who's going where before we finalise who rides him. I'm not sure who will ride him yet."

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