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JP McManus has a top-quality team for the Cheltenham Festival, including new Champion Hurdle hope Iberico Lord for Nicky Henderson Picture Credit: Edward Whitaker

JP McManus makes major moves in bid for Cheltenham glory after buying two favourites and adding Iberico Lord to Champion Hurdle

David Jennings and Jack Haynes (Racing Post)

JP McManus has splashed the cash with less than a week to go to the Cheltenham Festival, adding ante-post favourites Meetingofthewaters and Its On The Line to his enviable squad and supplementing Betfair Hurdle winner Iberico Lord for the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

McManus is the most successful owner in the history of the big meeting and is 4-6 with Paddy Power to enjoy five or more winners across the four days.

The high-profile owner has a long line of purchases from fellow shrewd operator Paul Byrne, including The Shunter, Corbetts Cross and Feronily, and continued their alliance by acquiring Ultima Handicap Chase favourite and Grand National entry Meetingofthewaters.

The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old is 5-1 favourite for the first handicap of the festival on Tuesday and a 20-1 chance for the Randox Grand National at Aintree the following month, while Its On The Line, trained by Emmet Mullins, has usurped Ferns Lock as the 9-4 favourite for the St James’s Place-backed Hunters’ Chase.

McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry said: “Meetingofthewaters looks a nice progressive chaser and he was very good when winning the Paddy Power at Leopardstown over Christmas. He was impressive there and looks like he has a decent chance next week.

“It was a funny race that Its On The Line ran in at Naas, and Patrick [Mullins, on Billaway] looked like he’d no chance turning for home, but he didn’t half come home strong. Its On The Line still managed to pull out more and he seems pretty good at that game. He’s still a young horse and hopefully he’s a few nice years ahead.”

The defection of Constitution Hill on Monday from the Champion Hurdle, along with the likelihood of easy ground on the opening day, led to McManus paying £18,000 to supplement stablemate Iberico Lord, who started this season with victory in the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham’s November meeting.

Iberico Lord was introduced into the Champion Hurdle betting at 25-1 with bet365 after the confirmations were revealed on Wednesday and was subsequently backed into 16-1.

Last year’s second State Man heads the betting at 4-11 and features in a potential field of 12 that includes Stayers’ Hurdle second favourite Irish Point and Mares’ Hurdle favourite Lossiemouth.

A first-four finish would ensure connections make a profit on the supplementary entry and Iberico Lord’s trainer Nicky Henderson believes the progressive six-year-old, who had been a leading contender for the County Hurdle, could be in the shake-up.

“We’ve been doing the maths and I would be very much hopeful he could finish in the first four,” said Henderson. “Once you take the cream off the top, it becomes a wide-open race, and Luccia will be in there for us and hopefully be involved too.

“On ratings Iberico Lord has a long way to go, but on the other hand he has been climbing the ranks fast and the race has a different complexion to it compared to a few days ago. The ground might well be better for him on Tuesday than Friday if it starts to dry up.”

The going at Cheltenham improved to soft (from soft, heavy in places) on Wednesday with 8-10mm of rain forecast at the weekend.

McManus has nine favourites across the meeting, including 4-5 shot Fact To File in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and evens chance Dinoblue in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase. The owner is 2-1 with the bookmaker to have a winner on each day of the festival.

Paddy Power spokesperson Paul Binfield said: “JP looks to have an awesome hand this year, which is reflected in that we make him 4-6 to have five or more winners, and he’s 1-4 to be top owner and it’s 6-1 bar.

“When you look at his potential squad you can see why as he has Dinoblue, considered by many as the banker of the meeting after chasing home El Fabiolo at Leopardstown, Corbetts Cross and the hugely exciting Fact To File among a massively talented team.”

McManus enjoyed four winners at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, including A Dream To Share in the Champion Bumper and Sire Du Berlais in the Stayers’ Hurdle.