Trainer David Pipe admits Ballynagour is a “hard horse to predict” ahead of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham today.
The French import took a competitive-looking race apart by the seams on his debut for the yard at Warwick, winning by 19 lengths, but he bombed out badly at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Pipe felt he may have been over-trained for the Byrne Group Plate, in which he finished eighth, and has been easier on his charge in the lead-up to this race.
He said: “On his best form, he’s obviously got a very good chance.
“He’s a hard horse to predict because he’s got his problems and he doesn’t take much work to get fit.
“If he was a normal horse then he wouldn’t be fit enough to win on Saturday. He hadn’t done that much work when he absolutely hacked up by 19 lengths at Warwick (last season).
“They said in France as well he didn’t take much work to get fit. He’s in good form at home, he’s schooled nicely and if he’s on his A game then he’s got a good chance.”
Jonjo O’Neill’s only previous triumph in the race came through one of the best horses he ever trained, but Johns Spirit will need to stay out of trouble if he is to follow in the footprints of Exotic Dancer.
“He’s grand but the problem for him is this is a hard race, and a different sort of race for him,” said O’Neill.
“It’s a big field and the way he has to be ridden, he’ll need a lot of luck in running. But he’s in good form and we’re hoping for the best.”
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson has three runners, headed by top weight Finian’s Rainbow.
The 2012 Champion Chase winner required a breathing operation last season to ward against dramatically dwindling form.
“If he has regained his form, he’s never going to get the chance off this mark again,” said Henderson.
“So there is a temptation to try it rather than go back down the two-mile route where, if he did win, he’d go back up to where he came from.”
Along with Nadiya De La Vega, Henderson also runs Rajdhani Express, who landed the Listed novice handicap at the last Festival.
Shark Hanlon’s string are in better form now and Hidden Cyclone, who had a restorative victory at Listowel in September, is in the reckoning.
“He had a racecourse gallop at Fairyhouse and that all went to plan, so we are happy with him,” he said .
“I was very happy with his run at Listowel. A lot of my horses were very sick last year, but I think they are over that now because I have a lot of point-to-pointers and they are winning every week, so I think they are back to form.”
Paul Nicholls, who won last year’s renewal with Al Ferof, is not bullish about the chances of his Woolcombe Folly. “He’s 10 now and he’s probably handicapped right to the hilt,” he said.
“”He ran a nice race the last day and could run into a place. He’s been a grand servant but unfortunately I’ve not got an Al Ferof this year.”
Philip Hobbs is double-handed, but his pair are at opposite ends of the scale.
He said: “Wishfull Thinking has 11st 7lb. He’s 10 and he’s exposed but he’s a fantastic horse and let’s hope he goes well. It (Finian’s Rainbow being in the race) helps. Colour Squadron is right down the bottom of the weights and hopefully he’ll have an each-way chance.”
Tony McCoy rides Tap Night for Lucinda Russell but admits he would prefer to be riding one of JP McManus’ other runners, Nadiya De La Vega or Colour Squadron.
“I think he’s got plenty of weight based on his Carlisle run and he needs to improve,” McCoy said.
“If I was a little bit thinner I would have liked to have ridden either Nadiya De La Vega or Colour Squadron but I couldn’t get down to their weights.
“I did fancy Finian’s Rainbow, despite top weight, as he’s the class horse. But having ridden out there I think the ground might be a bit dead for him. It’s a wide-open race and I wouldn’t know where to start to find the winner.”
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