Light a leading Gold Cup contender - even if the bookies are giving nothing away

Aidan O’Brien is back on the Gold Cup trail at Ascot with Leading Light and it is going to be fascinating to see how this pans out next month.

The son of Montjeu is a horse we made a case for a number of times last season, but didn’t know when to stop and went a step too far by thinking he had a live chance in the ‘Arc at Longchamp.

As it turned out he simply wasn’t good enough, lacking the tactical speed to play a leading role, although not getting the best of rides from Gerald Mosse.

Apart from Longchamp, however, this is a horse that has done just about everything asked of him, producing probably his best performance when taking the English St Leger at Doncaster in September.

The English Leger success proved that Leading Light stays 14 furlongs plus standing on his head.

But we were pretty sure such was the case anyway, because he had previously got two miles, admittedly at a much lower level, when winning the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot.

The Gold Cup is one of the greatest flat races of the year, it dates back to 1807, and I am old enough to remember two mighty warriors winning it, Le Moss in ’79 and ’80 and Ardross the following two years. They were both trained by the late Henry Cecil.

Success, of course, is virtually the death knell for a horse’s career as a flat stallion and he will just have to settle for the more busty National Hunt fillies! O’Brien has a terrific record in the contest and did much to renew its popularity with the great Yeats.

He won the Gold Cup four years in a row, between 2006-2009. Kieren Fallon and Mick Kinane did the original driving, with Johnny Murtagh in the plate on the latter two occasions. For good measure, O’Brien added a fifth win with Fame And Glory in 2011.

Leading Light has already proven himself to be an excellent racehorse and his record is six wins in eight races.

We know he got beaten in the ‘Arc and his only other defeat came first time up as a juvenile at Galway.

He went off 100-30 that day, which told its own story, in a five-horse affair, and trailed in fourth of five.

Last Sunday at Navan, on his seasonal debut, he was particularly strong in the market, that told its own story as well, and made no mistake in putting up a smashing performance to beat Royal Diamond by three lengths. That represents form of the highest calibre.

The question is regarding Ascot, though, which no one can answer, is whether Leading Light will stay two and a half miles? He is by Montjeu, out of a filly called Dance Parade. Now Dance Parade was very fast, winning her first three races as a two-year-old over five furlongs for Paul Cole, including the Group 3 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot.

Obviously that raises some doubts, although the manner in which Leading Light relaxes through his races offers real hope.

Overall, you have to say he is just very good and easily the most likely winner of the Gold Cup, even if the bookmakers are giving absolutely nothing away, at around 2-1, about a race that won’t be run until June 19.

It is surely long before time the Turf Club finally put in place a system that takes going descriptions seriously in this country.

We had the recent debacle at Cork, where the directors essentially over-ruled the clerk of the course and insisted that the track be watered a lot more than the Turf Club official felt was required.

The vast majority seemed to be of the opinion the directors called that right, with the matter being referred to the Turf Club. All we have had in the meantime is silence.

Then at Limerick last Sunday, one hour prior to the first race, the ground was officially given as good.

On hearing that one of the pressmen on duty, Justin O’Hanlon of the Racing Post, was heard to mutter: “until after the first race.’’ Well, lo and behold, wasn’t he right. No rain fell before the opener, but no sooner had the jockeys returned after riding in the contest than the ground was changed to good to yielding.

Then before the third race, still no rain and with the weather actually getting warmer, the ground was again changed, this time to yielding.

I asked a senior jockey as to what he thought of the surface and he said: “It is yielding, soft in places, there is no good out there.’’ So I moved onto another senior jockey and questioned him. “To call it good was ridiculous’’, he said.

So, if you backed a horse in that first race at Limerick, on the basis the ground was good, then you were entitled to feel cheated. It is simply not, excuse the pun, good enough any more.

At Roscommon on Monday night Cliff House defied a 13lbs rise in the weights and Abby Cadabby, for two wins, a 17lbs rise, both of them producing really game efforts.

Last week here we referred to Joe Murphy’s Daredevil Day, who went up a whopping 25lbs for winning at Sligo and then at Killarney.

He got 12lbs for scoring at Killarney and I wrote that, in my opinion, it was an overreaction on the part of the handicapper.

Indeed, I went further and threatened to go back on the drink if Daredevil Day manages to win again this season.

At Limerick on Sunday, Joe told me I will be going back on the drink. Daredevil Day runs at the Curragh today. Oh dear!

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