Kitten Rock looks the horse to propel Edward O’Grady back to big time

Not too many trainers can be chasing Cheltenham festival glory 41 years after enjoying their initial success at the meeting.

Kitten Rock looks the horse to propel Edward O’Grady back to big time

Well that’s very much the case with Edward O’Grady, who clearly has a live candidate in the shape of Kitten Rock.

The five-year-old made a fine start over fences at Navan last Sunday and, while it would be ridiculous to get carried away at this early stage, Kitten Rock is already an obvious possibility.

O’Grady hasn’t half stood the test of time, having saddled his first winner at the festival when Mr Midland, ridden by Mouse Morris, won the four-mile National Hunt Chase way back in 1974.

He remains one of the leading Irish trainers at Cheltenham, with 18 winners, although it has been somewhat slim pickings for a while now.

O’Grady’s fortunes have waned over the last number of years, with the face of National Hunt racing in Ireland changing dramatically.

J P McManus has long been a supporter of O’Grady’s, but spreads his patronage far and wide, so the trainer would need a lot more than that to compete on an ongoing basis with the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.

I cannot remember him training a horse for Gigginstown, Barry Connell, Rich Ricci or Ann and Alan Potts and when you don’t have massive owners such as these on your side then the battle is especially difficult.

Nevertheless, he has kept up the good fight and plenty of us who have been around almost as long as O’Grady would not begrudge him a really good horse.

He is, arguably, best known for his association with Gay Future, the medium of a much-publicised attempted coup at Cartmel in 1974, but more particularly as the trainer of the magnificent Golden Cygnet.

One of the first times I ever went to Cheltenham was in ‘78, when lucky enough to see Golden Cygnet in the flesh. He won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with a breathtaking display by 15 lengths, ridden by Boots Madden.

Afterwards, if memory serves me correctly, Madden, in the Sporting Life, likened riding the horse to driving a Rolls Royce. (Mind you, I doubt that Boots, no more than most of us, has ever had many opportunities to get behind the wheel of that mode of transport!)

Golden Cygnet was dead within a couple of weeks, taking a fatal fall at the last in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr, when cantering all over two legends of the game, Night Nurse and Sea Pigeon.

Anyway, back to Kitten Rock. Going to Navan, he was regarded as a very promising sort, basically on the back of finishing sixth behind Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

But racing is littered with horses that have performed well enough in the Champion Hurdle and were actually found to be no great shakes down the line. It was important then that Kitten Rock made a solid start over fences and he indicated this might be his true calling.

The word last Sunday morning was the horse was set to strip well short of peak fitness and that was confirmed after the race by O’Grady.

But Kitten Rock’s class got him through, although having to be bustled up on the run in by Barry Geraghty to beat Sizing Titanium, who was much inferior to him over flights.

Kitten Rock is owned by McManus and it is well to remember that O’Grady provided him with his first ever Cheltenham Festival winner in Mister Donovan in 1982, in what was then the SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle and is now the Neptune.

Can Kitten Rock propel O’Grady back to the big time? It is a long way removed from a remote possibility.

As a huge fan of Vautour, I am firmly in the camp that believes he should not be favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

At the moment it is hard to see why he is a shorter price than last year’s winner, Coneygree, who made a smashing return to action at Sandown. This was only Coneygree’s fifth ever outing over fences and he really is a thorough professional.

There is no doubt in my mind that Vautour is a better horse then Coneygree, but will he be better over a punishing three and a quarter miles at Prestbury Park?

That’s the million-dollar question and why, literally, every move Vautour makes throughout the campaign will be analysed and then analysed again.

The difference a set of fences can make to a horse was never better illustrated than by the display of Noel Meade’s Killer Miller at Naas last Saturday.

This shaped as a hot enough beginners chase and I thought it was hard to make a case for the six-year-old.

I had my few quid on him the previous time he ran, when taking a modest maiden hurdle at Limerick in May.

He did score with plenty to spare, but his Naas effort was far in advance of that and Killer Miller looks one to note.

We will know a lot more about him after he contests a Grade 2 at Punchestown tomorrow.

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