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Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Neptune Collonges back to his best - owner John Hales

Neptune Collonges
Neptune Collonges finished fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2009

Shropshire owner John Hales believes that Neptune Collonges is a serious contender for the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup after almost two years out.

Neptune Collonges suffered a serious tendon injury during last year's race at Cheltenham, when he finished fourth.

But Hales says that the Paul Nicholls-trained grey has benefited from his long lay-off, admitting: "He's just the same horse. He has the pace.

"Paul Nicholls watched him in a race course gallop and said he looked good."

Former One Man owner Hales told BBC Radio Shropshire: "I think he can win it.

"Denman and Kauto Star are both older than him. That might count. It's unfortunate he's come across them in his career."

After his injury at the Gold Cup in March 2009, when he finished fourth behind Kauto Star, the nine-year-old made his comeback in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury last month.

But, despite having champion jockey AP McCoy on board, he was unluckily brought down at the fourth fence in the Berkshire showpiece.

"He had no ill effects from what happened in the Hennessy," said Hales. "He was unlucky because he jumped the fence beautifully and was brought down.

"But the horse is fine and Paul has been very happy with him at home."

Hales now plans to run him at Cheltenham in Friday's a three-mile Handicap Chase at the International Meeting, if it beats the weather.

Simon Claisse, clerk of the course at Cheltenham, is optimistic that this week's meeting will go ahead, with weather conditions improving.

"He needs a run," added Hales. "We might put an apprentice on him because he's going to be top weight and we need to bring that down."

Hales' horse could also be lined up to race in the Lexus Chase alongside stablemate Denman at Leopardstown on 28 December.



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