Ground questions for Joncol

PAUL NOLAN is unsure how Joncol will handle conditions at Newbury as he prepares to take his chance in Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup.

The dual Grade One winner has been campaigned solely in testing conditions in Ireland during his career and the ground he encounters at Newbury is likely to be the fastest he has ever run on.

Nolan is praying for rain to give his eight-year-old the best possible chance and he is reported to be in rude health having made an impressive seasonal return at Thurles at the start of this month.

“At the moment the intention is to travel and I’m just hoping they get the bit of rain that’s forecast. As long as the ground is good to soft I think he’ll take his chance.” said Nolan.

“It will be interesting to see how he handles it as it will be the first time he’s run on a bit of nice ground. We’ve missed the Punchestown Festival for the last couple of seasons because the ground has been drying out but at least at this time of year, the ground should not be drying out too much.

“We won’t really know how he handles it until we have a go. Hopefully he can prove he’s not a total mudlark, but obviously the more rain they get the better.

“He did it very nicely in Thurles the last day and should improve on that as he had a good blow afterwards.

“Barry Geraghty will ride him on Saturday, which is great news, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Noel Fehily is confident a lack of race fitness will not be a problem for Michel Le Bon after riding his Hennessy Gold Cup mount in a schooling session yesterday.

With stable jockey Ruby Walsh partnering long-term Hennessy favourite Aiteen Thirtythree and second rider Daryl Jacob heading to Newcastle to partner Celestial Halo in the Stanjames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Paul Nicholls snapped up the services of Fehily for his second major contender for the Newbury showpiece.

Fehily is no stranger to riding for the champion trainer – most notably guiding Master Minded to victory in last season’s rearranged Tingle Creek at Cheltenham - and he is thrilled to have been given the call again.

Michel Le Bon has been sidelined by injury since winning a Grade Two novice chase at this fixture two years ago, but Fehily feels the eight-year-old is ready to do himself justice.

“I went and had a sit on him this morning and he jumped absolutely fantastic, so I’m really looking forward to it,” said Fehily. “It’s great to be riding good horses like him, that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s a competitive race as you would expect for a Hennessy, but it’s probably not as good a renewal as there has been Aiteen Thirtythree was a highly encouraging second to Somersby on his seasonal reappearance at Kempton and part-owner Andy Stewart is looking forward to his weekend return.

“We were very pleased he was only beaten three lengths by Somersby at Kempton and he wasn’t disgraced at Ascot on Saturday,” Stewart told At The Races.

“He seems to like Newbury, the distance is absolutely fine, and so is the going.

“I was very impressed with (owner) David Johnson’s Great Endeavour at Cheltenham in the Paddy Power.

“I’ll probably be stood next to David at Newbury, so we will see what happens.

“May the best horse win and they all come back safe and sound.”

Great Endeavour’s trainer David Pipe is hoping his charge can complete the double in two of the season’s most prestigious handicaps, although he admits he has some doubts about the trip.

“The plan is to let our winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup take his chance in which only 19 remain at the five day stage,” the trainer told www.davidpipe.com.

“While I have some reservations about the trip of three miles, two furlongs, especially if we have significant rain in the run up to Saturday, I am encouraged by the fact that he was able to finish a close third in a Cheltenham handicap hurdle on soft ground in November 2009.

“He will be ridden accordingly and we are hopeful that he will be able to put up a bold bid to emulate my father, who completed the double with Celestial Gold back in 2004.”

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