PAT KEANE: Stupid to dismiss Sir Des as a real player in Gold Cup

There were plenty willing to knock Sir Des Champs as a possible Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, following his hard-earned defeat of Flemenstar in the Hennessy at Leopardstown a week ago, but here's one who continues to believe he has a massive chance next month.

None of the horse's three runs this season, including beating Flemenstar by a length and three parts in the Hennessy, are remotely good enough to see him winning the biggest prize in National Hunt racing. When scoring at Leopardstown, he recorded a time just 4.3 seconds faster than it took Salsify in a hunters chase two races later.

When you consider Salsify was racing an hour after the Hennessy, on a surface that would have been well churned up by then, that puts in perspective Sir Des Champs' performance.

The seven-year-old's jumping in the Lexus at Leopardstown at Christmas, when eventually finishing best of all to claim fourth behind Tidal Bay, was most disappointing.

On Saturday, with only three rivals and a funereal pace, at least for some of the trip, he had loads of time to measure his fences and his technique, arguably as a consequence, was much improved.

It's all actually quite negative then? No, not by a street, and sometimes you simply have to look a lot deeper to understand what might happen on the only day that will really count, March 15.

Consider for a second what Sir Des Champs did in his last race last season, prior to heading to Cheltenham.

That was in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown on January 28, when an even-money shot to see off four others.

He scrambled home half a length and three parts of a length in front of Fists Of Fury and Hidden Cyclone, form which didn't have Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, or any kind of Cheltenham winner, exactly written all over it.

But fast-forward to the Jewson at the festival a couple of weeks later and it was like viewing a different horse. Indeed, I watched the Jewson again this week and it merely reinforced one's thinking that Sir Des Champs is indeed a serious contender. His jumping at Cheltenham wasn't good, wasn't great, it was absolutely brilliant, simply electric.

He flew across his fences, never touched a twig and seemed utterly at home both with the competitive nature of the contest and the undulations of the track.

Factor in the genius of his trainer, Willie Mullins, and you have an almost irresistible concoction.

I'm not saying Sir Des Champs is going to win the Gold Cup, but to dismiss him as a real player, as some have done this week, seems a little bit stupid to my way of thinking.

It is virtually impossible to get a handle on whether the Irish or English juvenile hurdlers hold the edge, but what we can say with a degree of certainty is that Dessie Hughes' Our Conor will head to the Triumph Hurdle with realistic prospects. He was essentially a miler on the flat and you had to harbour major doubts regarding his ability to stay two miles over jumps.

But he has shaped as a natural from day one and is now unbeaten in all three of his outings over flights.

At Leopardstown on Saturday, he destroyed the best we have in this country, including two of Willie Mullins', Diakali and Blood Cotil, and the Cheltenham hill, amazingly, should hold no fears for him.

Champagne Fever came right back to his best at Leopardstown with a fine front-running display to land the Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle.

But the horse to take out of the contest, at least for those of us greedy enough to want a little pay-day in the not too distant future, was surely Dessie Hughes' Bright New Dawn.

This was a nice improvement on what he had done previously and there was much to admire in the way he stuck to his task all the way up the straight.

He doesn't look a possible Cheltenham winner this season, but you'd certainly want to be with him domestically next time.

I often smile when hearing about horses who weren't "right'', after they have got beaten and, basically, disappointed connections.

There were two stand-out cases of late, Flemenstar and Puffin Billy, who went under to a very smart sort in Melodic Rendezvous at Exeter last Sunday. Yeah, yeah, I know something was found to be wrong with both of them, apparently, subsequently.

I have long thought, however, there are two sure ways to the poor house for punters. The first is blaming top-class jockeys and the other is making excuses for horses.

Keep it up and, as sure as night follows day, you'll go skint!

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