For a number of years now the Irish Gold Cup has become increasingly irrelevant as a Cheltenham trial and this renewal is more notable for those that are missing, rather than those who are running, writes Pat Keane.
The first thing that struck you, when the entries for tomorrow’s Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown became available on Tuesday, was how moderate a contest it looked.
At that stage, there were ten possibilities and it took some leap of faith to envisage any of them playing a meaningful role in the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.
Those that are left in the contest have no real pretensions to being top class and the winner will have to produce something that has been hidden under the bonnet until now if he is to be afforded more than a cursory glance.
Mind you this Irish Gold Cup has been on a bit of a downward spiral for a while and has not gone to the subsequent winner of the Cheltenham showpiece since Imperial Call in 1996.
It used to be a really great race and has been won in the past by seriously good horses, such as Carvill’s Hill, Jodami, Imperial Call, Danoli, Dorans Pride, Florida Pearl and Beef Or Salmon.
But for a number of years now it has become increasingly irrelevant as a Cheltenham trial and this renewal is more notable for those that are missing, rather than those who are running.
For instance, neither Djakadam or Outlander were left in on Tuesday and that, at least, is a statement of intent on the part of connections.
They will now head for Cheltenham particularly fresh horses, rested since Outlander beat Don Poli by two and a quarter lengths into second in the Lexus at Leopardstown at Christmas, with Djakadam a head further away in third.
Djakadam, still only an eight-year-old, has twice finished second in the Gold Cup and Willie Mullins clearly believes that this preparation offers his relative underachiever the best opportunity to finally deliver.
In a campaign that has seen Mullins on the canvas more than once, but very much still standing, it would be mighty ironic to see Djakadam give him the Gold Cup, after he trained the second on no less than six occasions.
This is some wide-open Gold Cup and makes a mockery of those derisory odds-on quotes earlier regarding Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack.
This week Thistlecrack was a 7-4 shot after, in my opinion, actually boosting his prospects at Cheltenham on his latest appearance when beaten a head into second by the ill-fated Many Clouds.
To my eyes this was his best performance over fences, better than his easy win in the King George at Kempton, because he would have learned a lot more, after being forced out of his comfort zone.
At such cramped odds, I will still be against him next month, but if you have always been a fan then there is no reason to jump ship now.
Native River, especially, and Cue Card give Tizzard a strong hand. Native River landed the Welsh National at Chepstow in some style and the form was boosted when Baie Des Iles, beaten over 23 lengths, when in receipt of 12lbs, bolted in at Punchestown last Sunday.
Then you have Bristol de Mai, who is only six and scored by 22 lengths at Haydock last time. The second, Otago Trail, won easily at Sandown a week ago. The fact that Bristol de Mai and Native River are taking each other on in the Denman Chase at Newbury today promises to be most informative.
Add in the hugely impressive Gowran Park Thyestes Chase winner, Champagne West, Outlander, Djakadam and one or two others and the only conclusion to be drawn is if they all turn up on the day that Thistlecrack is virtually guaranteed to be a bigger price than he is now.
The defection of Faugheen from the Champion Hurdle has left the contest in disarray and a chinese puzzle might be easier to solve.
Faugheen, at his best, would have carried what is left in the race and, from this range, I doubt one could be confident about naming the likely favourite, not to mind the winner.
For the last few years Cheltenham, often a nightmare for punters, has been good to us, but this time round is set to offer a daunting challenge.
Only Douvan can have the dreaded ‘banker’’ hanging around his neck. But otherwise this might just be a festival where anything is possible.
THERE are times when this game would drive you to distraction. Take that Grade 3 hurdle at Fairyhouse last Saturday, eventually won by Gordon Elliot’s Shattered Love.
Willie Mullins ran two in the race, Asthuria and Pravalaguna, and not for a minute did I picture Ruby Walsh’s name appearing next to the latter, with Paul Townend on Asthuria. But that’s how it panned out, which was perplexing, because my reading of the form book was that Asthuria would prove far superior.
So, the decision was made to swim against the tide, with Asthuria, who would surely have been odds-on with Walsh aboard, offering remarkable value at 7-2, when we were ready to pull the trigger.
By the time the starter let them go Asthuria was 5-2, with Pravalaguna at 7-2, so we weren’t the only ones in the water! Pravalaguna, basically, ran to her form, finishing a well beaten fourth. In the meantime Asthuria was bowling along merrily in front and holding every chance when falling at the last. The cat that was nearby was lucky she made a run for it!
I AM very much looking forward to the clash of Bellshill and Our Duke in tomorrow’s Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
Bellshill is currently around 5-1 favourite for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, while we know that Our Duke will not be travelling.
These are two promising youngsters, who have been more than impressive thus far. Could the horse that is set to stay at home prove too good for the one with the more immediate lofty ambitions?
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