By Pat Keane
BEEF OR SALMON has to do the business in style in tomorrow’s Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown if he is to retain his position at the head of Cheltenham’s Gold Cup market.
Trainer Michael Hourigan is reasonably confident. "He’s fine. He did a little bit of work today. Any race is a good race to win and we are looking for a victory.
"Sunday’s race fits in nicely for the Gold Cup.
"The ground should be yielding or yielding to soft and that would be OK."
Beef Or Salmon comes here on the back of a smooth success in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas when easily beating War Of Attrition by four lengths.
Aintree Grand National hero Hedgehunter finished fourth then, 17 lengths adrift of Beef Or Salmon, and it will be a real surprise should he manage to reverse placings.
"I am happy with Hedgehunter and this race has been his target since the Grand National last year," said trainer Willie Mulins.
"I hope he can improve a little bit and get closer to Beef Or Salmon.
"We will then make a decision on whether he runs in the Gold Cup after the weekend."
The Dr P J Moriarty Novice Chase is the best race of its kind run so far this season. It brings together the best in the country and the winner will surely have a bright future indeed.
Our Ben gets preference over Southern Vic. The seven-year-old first indicated he was a cracking horse in the making at Cheltenham last March when third behind No Refuge and Racing Demon in the SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle.
His two efforts thus far over fences have been more to do with promise than substance, but he is reported to have gone very much the right way of late.
Southern Vic will be a tough nut to crack. A brilliant jumper, he was utterly impressive when scoring at Leopardstown and Naas and is certain to ask serious questions of his rival.
However, Conor O’Dwyer is worried the drying ground and a drop in trip might not be ideal for Southern Vic.
"It’s just a pity the ground is drying up a bit for him and two miles five might not suit him as much as the longer trip, but I’m looking forward to it and he’s a very nice novice," said O’Dwyer.
"The ground was testing at Naas and he didn’t have any problem so this trip might be on the sharp side with it drying up. I’m hoping for the best."
Willie Mullins trains Our Ben and his Mister Hight puts his Triumph Hurdle prospects on the line in the Cashmans’ Juvenile Hurdle.
A smart sort on the flat, Mister Hight could hardly have done his job any better when scoring by 20 lengths first time up over flights at Punchestown and is the choice.
Noel Meade’s Mr Nosie, conqueror of Ballytrim in a point-to-point, is the one to beat in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
He is unbeaten on the racecourse, stepping well up on his maiden win at Cork to beat Blueberry Boy, who only has a 2lbs pull, by five lengths on this track last time.
Alexander Buffet, by Taipan, is well regarded and can prove yet another from the Willie Mullins conveyor belt in the Bumper.
At Naas today the rather quaintly named Joe Crowley trained Hairy Molly gets the vote to land the nap in the Bumper.
There was plenty to like about the way he stuck to his task when scoring by two lengths on this track last month and expect more use to be made of him now, dropping down three furlongs in trip.
Celtic Sammy can take the 25-runner Go Racing In Kildare Maiden Hurdle. He appeared to be crying out for further when beaten half a length by Albert Mooney over two miles at Navan in December.
Arthur Moore’s Tiger Cry looks sure to go off an odds-on shot in the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Novice Chase and cannot be opposed.
He ran the race of his life at Cheltenham in November, grabbed on the run in by Jonjo O’Neill’s Bold Bishop, and this is a far easier assignment.