Michael Hourigan believes this year’s totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup could be a different story for Beef Or Salmon after three failed attempts.
Form figures of fallen, fourth and pulled up in chasing’s blue riband hardly inspire confidence but Hourigan is convinced there is good reason to be optimistic this time.
And despite his poor record, Beef Or Salmon is 5-1 ante-post favourite with the sponsors thanks to his victory in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December and the absence of last year’s winner Kicking King and the death of triple hero Best Mate.
Before next month’s blue riband, the 10-year-old will try for a second success in the €180,000 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at the Dublin track on Sunday for which nine horses were left in at the latest forfeit stage.
He won the Grade One chase over three miles in 2003 and was runner-up to Rule Supreme 12 months ago.
“He’s a happier horse this year than he was last year. You could see at Haydock (when second to Kingscliff) Paul couldn’t put his legs in the irons until he got onto the track because he was trying to buck him off all the time. It just shows that he’s healthy and he’s well in himself,” Hourigan told At The Races.
Beef Or Salmon is a standing dish at Leopardstown with four of his seven Grade One chase victories having come over the Dublin track’s three miles.
“It seems people think if the Gold Cup was run around Leopardstown he would be a certainty, but unfortunately it isn’t,” the County Limerick trainer continued.
“So many have fallen by the wayside this year. I think it just goes to show how difficult it is to keep a horse right at the top level. Hopefully, he can stay right this year and I can get a true run into my horse.
“People say I have taken the easy route, but there are no easy Grade Ones. You have to jump and you have to get to the line in front.
“I’ve had horses in the last nine runnings of the Gold Cup, which is an achievement in itself.
“I’ve yet to win one though this year may be different.
“Everything is on track with the horse for Sunday. He’ll do a small bit of work on Friday,” added Hourigan.
Irish bookmakers Cashmans make him their 4-9 favourite for Sunday’s race with Hedgehunter next best on 5-2 while all the others are 20-1 or longer.
Hedgehunter, fourth in the Lexus Chase, could try to continue trainer Willie Mullins’ tremendous record in the race.
Mullins has saddled the winner of six of the last seven renewals and has turned to last year’s John Smith’s Grand National winner this time around.
Ted Walsh has three to choose from in Southern Vic, who also holds an entry in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase on the same card, last year’s Betfred Gold Cup winner Jack High and the veteran Rince Ri.
Frances Crowley is represented by Nil Desperandum, while Stephen Mahon’s Troytown Chase winner Prince Of Tara, Sean O’Brien’s Strong Project and Arthur Moore’s Native Upmanship complete the list of possible runners.
Cashmans: 4-9 Beef Or Salmon, 5-2 Hedgehunter, 20-1 Prince Of Tara, 20-1 Strong Project, 25-1 Nil Desperandum, Rince Ri, 33-1 Jack High, Native Upmanship.