It is 10 years since Ryanair supremo Michael O’Leary’s racing empire claimed Gold Cup glory with War Of Attrition, but the team have every chance of repeating the feat next month after assembling a formidable hand of staying chasers that includes Gordon Elliott’s ante-post favourite Don Cossack and the Willie Mullins-trained Don Poli.
The Gigginstown-owned Road To Riches, trained by Noel Meade, was third in the blue riband last March but was a beaten favourite in Saturday’s Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, leading to suggestions he could be rerouted to the shorter Ryanair Chase – a race the sponsors have not yet won.
Eddie O’Leary says talk of firming up Festival plans is premature, however, and is prepared to forgive Road To Riches his defeat in testing conditions.
He said: “The ground was brutal in Leopardstown and that was never going to suit him, so we’re not despondent.
“Like all of them, it will be between the Gold Cup and the Ryanair and we’ll decide during the week of the race.
“It will depend on the health of the two Dons (Don Cossack and Don Poli) and the ground.”
O’Leary does not subscribe to a theory put forward by some that Gigginstown’s retained rider Bryan Cooper rode too forceful a race aboard Meade’s stable star.
He said: “Bryan rode him as he saw fit and that’s grand for us.
“He rode him the same way at Cheltenham last year and he finished third in the Gold Cup. It’s just a ground issue.”
Another Gigginstown runner in contention for the same Festival races is Valseur Lido, who may well have won the Irish Gold Cup but for making a mess of the final fence and unseating Ruby Walsh.
His apparent emergence as a major force further muddies the waters for Cooper, who will have some tough choices to make.
O’Leary said: “Whether Valseur Lido run in the Gold Cup or the Ryanair we’ll wait and see, but he was running a super race and he’s thrown his hat into the ring.
“Bryan will ride whichever horse he feels has the best chance in both races.”
- Nina Carberry has not yet set a date for her return to the saddle after suffering a back injury in a fall at Clonmel last Thursday.
The leading amateur rider was due to partner star hunter chaser On The Fringe on his seasonal reappearance at Leopardstown on Saturday, but was forced to watch on from the sidelines after she was unseated from Strangford Lough.
With the Cheltenham Festival less than five weeks away, Carberry is keen to get back in the saddle as soon as possible.
She said: “I tore a ligament in my back and I don’t know when I’ll be back riding at this stage.
“It’s not too bad and I’m having a bit of physio done.
“I’ll get it looked at in another week and I should know more then.”
- Peace And Co will undergo a minor respiratory procedure following his second short-priced defeat of the season at Sandown on Saturday.
Last season’s Triumph Hurdle hero finished last on his seasonal reappearance in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December and while he settled better in the Contenders Hurdle, he still appeared below his best in finishing third.
Speaking in his Stan James blog, trainer Nicky Henderson said: “Following his run on Saturday we have been looking at Peace And Co’s respiratory and although there is not a whole lot to see or hear, we feel cauterizing his pallet, which is a fairly straightforward procedure – without the need for a general anaesthetic – would benefit him.”
Henderson added that Peace And Co would only require a “a short period of rest, which will not affect his intended participation at the (Cheltenham) Festival”.