Fenton delays Instalment Gold call as worries persist over ground

Last Instalmen headed to England yesterday as trainer Philip Fenton delayed a decision on his participation in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup until the middle of the week.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned nine-year-old has returned from a near two-year absence seemingly better than ever judged by his brilliant display in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month.

He is among the leading contenders for the Gold Cup on Friday, but connections have repeatedly stated he will only run if ground conditions are on the easy side due to the leg problems which kept him off the track for so long.

Fenton said: “He’s heading over this afternoon and a decision will be made over there later in the week.

“We’ll see how the ground is riding and we’ll have the course walked a couple of times. We’ll be making a decision as late as possible.

“We’ll hope there might be a bit of frost to keep a bit of moisture in the ground.

“The horse is in good shape, so we’ll see what happens.”

Last Instalment is one of three intended Festival runners for Fenton, with Coral Cup top weight Dunguib set for his fourth visit to Prestbury Park.

Winner of the 2009 Champion Bumper, third in the 2010 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and eighth in the Champion Hurdle a year later, the 11-year-old spent almost three years on the sidelines until returning in January, when an encouraging third at Naas.

Dunguib then turned in an impressive display to take the Boyne Hurdle at Navan by six lengths.

Fenton said: “He’s on-song and on target. He’s rated 154 over there (England) and he’s 3lb higher at home, so we’ll see what happens.

“This is the right race for him and this is probably his last chance of running in Cheltenham, being an 11-year-old.

“He’s in good shape and we’re hoping for the best.”

Fenton’s third Festival challenger is Champion Bumper contender Value At Risk.

* Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse said yesterday that he expects the ground to continue to dry out and the word ‘good’ to appear in the going description from today.

Cheltenham was bathed in early spring sunshine and warmed by temperatures of 16C yesterday as Claisse reported the going to be good to soft on both the Old Course, used the first two days, and the New Course, used the final two.

However, Claisse is predicting the ground to dry further and said: “Both hurdle tracks and both chase tracks are good to soft. I took the ‘soft in places’ out of the going description yesterday.

“I will look again at the ground later this afternoon but I am not anticipating changing the going description then. Tomorrow, however, I expect to have ‘good’ somewhere in the going description.”

Claisse added that with temperatures forecast to remain in double figures next week he would be monitoring conditions on the New Course and said: “The forecast is for dry and warm weather to continue, though it will not be as warm today on Monday and Tuesday. Today’s high was due to be 16C, while it is forecast to be 11C on Monday and 13C on Tuesday.

“The condition of the New Course, used on Thursday and Friday, will be monitored throughout the week as it is anticipated to continue to dry out.”

On Saturday night, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson issued a joint plea to Claisse not to water the track.

The continued dry weather is viewed as a disadvantage to leading Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Last Instalment and owner Michael O’Leary said on Sunday that a decision on the nine-year-old’s participation might be left as late as Friday morning.

O’Leary said: “It depends on what they are doing with the watering. I was very impressed with Nicky [Henderson] and Paul Nicholls calling for no watering at the course, they are obviously worried about Last Instalment.

“He handles better ground, the issue is with his legs as he has injured two tendons.

“He’ll certainly be declared and we might make a decision on Friday morning. We always have First Lieutenant to run in the race if it is not right for Last Instalment.”

* Exciting juvenile Activial will skip the JCB Triumph Hurdle and instead wait for next month’s Crabbie’s Grand National meeting at Aintree.

Runner-up behind leading Triumph candidate Calipto on his British debut at Newbury, the French import oozed class when running away with the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton last month.

Trainer Harry Fry suggested afterwards a trip to the Cheltenham Festival was unlikely and has now confirmed he will not be lining up next Friday.

Fry said: “The weather has helped us make up our minds, but after the Adonis, Noel (Fehily, jockey) and myself thought we should wait for Aintree and that’s what we’re going to do.

“The race at Aintree (Crabbie’s Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle) is a very good race in its own right, it’s a Grade One and a good race to target.

“There is less than three weeks between the Triumph and the Aintree race and we’ll go there nice and fresh and looking forward to it.

“He came out of Kempton very well and he’s a very exciting horse.”

* Anthony Honeyball is considering options at Aintree and Punchestown for Regal Encore following a creditable run in defeat in Saturday’s Imperial Cup at Sandown.

Last season’s Champion Bumper runner-up was beaten at long odds-on on his penultimate start over hurdles at Hexham, but the form has worked out well, with his conqueror, Seeyouatmidnight, now rated in the 150s.

Regal Encore looked potentially well treated off a mark of 130 on his handicap bow, but the JP McManus-owned six-year-old could only finish fourth in Sandown’s feature, beaten a little under six lengths.

While he still holds entries at Cheltenham, Honeyball said his inmate is set to bypass the Festival and wait for one of the other big meetings this spring.

The Dorset handler said: “He’s come out of the race in good order. We’ve had him out and he’s sound and bright, so we’re happy. Obviously there is a hint of disappointment as we hoped he could go there and do it, but JP certainly wasn’t disappointed after the race and neither was AP (McCoy).

“They went a bit slow and a stronger gallop would definitely have helped him.

“He was a bit slow over one or two (hurdles) down the back, but on the whole he did everything right.

“He’ll definitely stay a bit further, but because he is still quite a keen horse, AP thinks we should stay at two miles for now and just hope we get a stronger gallop. It was his handicap debut in a Grade Three and he ran a nice race, so overall we’re happy and we’ll look forward to the rest of the season with him.”

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