Punchestown poser for Gigginstown

A decision on which race First Lieutenant contests at the Punchestown Festival could be dictated by the target of the impressive Sir Des Champs.

Both horses are owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud and just like at Cheltenham, they are likely to be kept apart at Punchestown.

Trained by Mouse Morris, First Lieutenant was denied back-to-back Festival wins by Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase while Sir Des Champs ran out one of the most impressive winners of the week in the Jewson and is now favourite for next year’s Gold Cup.

“All the Cheltenham horses are A1,” said Morris. “I hope First Lieutenant will go to Punchestown but which race I’m not sure as he obviously won’t run in the same race as Sir Des Champs.

“I don’t think there’s a two-and-a-half-mile Grade One at Punchestown so he’ll probably have an entry in the Irish (Guinness) Gold Cup.

“We’ll just keep our options open for the time being.

“A few of Michael’s older horses have had problems but he’s fortunate enough to have to worry about keeping his best apart.”

Another Morris charge, China Rock could be set for a drop in class and trip at Punchestown.

For the second year running in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, China Rock was travelling as well as anything coming down the hill on the second circuit, but whereas injury struck 12 months ago, this year stamina limitations were seemingly exposed.

Morris felt that was partly down to the watered ground and concedes he may be better off in the Ryanair next year.

But before this season is out he may run in the Guinness Handicap Chase over two and a half miles rather than the Gold Cup over three miles and a furlong.

“He just doesn’t get the trip when it gets soft so he might be a Ryanair horse for next year rather than the Gold Cup,” said Morris.

“Once they put so much water on we knew we may as well go home.

“He’ll go to Punchestown and he’ll either run in the Gold Cup or there’s a two-and-a-half-mile handicap that he could run in.

“He’s got plenty of toe and he jumps super, but he probably just lacked a bit of match practice as he didn’t run in the first half of the season.”

Rubi Light could be a potential opponent for China Rock at Punchestown as the seven-year-old is likely to be given a second crack at three miles in the Guinness Gold Cup.

Robbie Hennessy’s stable star may only have finished fifth in the Ryanair Chase over two miles and five furlongs at Cheltenham, but his first effort over the longer trip was given the ultimate boost there last week.

Rubi Light finished second on his first crack at three miles, with subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Synchronised beating him by eight and a half lengths in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

“He’s grand, not a bother on him. They probably just went half a stride too quick for him down the back,” said Hennessy.

“He was never in his comfort zone, but it was Cheltenham and probably one of the most competitive races of the week. There was no hiding place.

“He’ll have to go for the three-mile chase. There isn’t a two-and-a-half-mile race and Synchronised boosted the Lexus form.

“After the Lexus they said Synchronised was only a handicapper, but he must be a fair one now!

“Rubi Light was bang there at the last that day. He was a well-beaten second but it was his first time over three miles and he’s still only a young horse.”

Meanwhile Paul Nolan still hopes Noble Prince will be able to run at Punchestown despite finding out his stable star suffered from sacroiliac joint pain at Cheltenham.

Well fancied for the Ryanair Chase having won at the Festival last year, Davy Russell was forced to pull up Noble Prince with half a mile still to run.

Nolan thanked Russell for his actions and believes if he had asked him to complete the race, more damage could have been done.

Sizing Europe suffered from the same ailment when he was pulled up in the Champion Hurdle of 2008 and made a complete recovery.

“We got the horse treated yesterday by Mark Swale (vet) and he had treatment on his sacroiliac joint,” said Nolan. “It’s the same thing that happened to Sizing Europe.

“Hopefully it’s treated. It’s a very treatable injury and we should be back, we’re still not ruling out Punchestown.

“It was good Davy pulled him up when he did rather than going on to what looked an inevitable defeat. Whatever he did happened early on.”

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox