Gordon Elliott is confident Don Cossack can cap his fantastic season by clinching gold in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham today.
The County Meath maestro has never made any secret of the high regard in which he holds the imposing eight-year-old and he has certainly come of age this season, racking up four victories on the spin.
Don Cossack bids to give Ryanair and Gigginstown House Stud supremo Michael O’Leary a first victory in the race he sponsors and Elliott is anticipating a bold show.
He said: “He’s been very good this year, he’s finishing his races out a lot stronger.
“He’s a short enough price, but he’s entitled to be.”
Don Cossack spearheads a formidable Irish challenge in the two-mile-five-furlong Grade One.
The Ted Walsh-trained Foxrock was touted as a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup contender following a narrow reverse at the hands of Tony McCoy and Carlingford Lough in the Hennessy at Leopardstown, but was instead supplemented for this shorter event.
“I didn’t think about Cheltenham after he got beat at Christmas and then he won the Leopardstown Chase well,” said Walsh.
“He went back and ran a cracker in the Hennessy and Barry (Connell, owner) said we should think about Cheltenham and maybe the Gold Cup. The more I thought about it, it’s really an afterthought and I don’t think you can go to Cheltenham with all guns blazing as an afterthought.
“But at the same time, the Ryanair would be a more realistic one to run a really good race in.
“He’s won over two-five and if you met those horses at home, you’d expect to run well against them.
“That’s where he’s going and it’s probably the lesser of two evils.”
Shark Hanlon’s stable star Hidden Cyclone appeared bound for the Champion Chase following success in the Tied Cottage at Punchestown in early February, but steps back up in distance for a race in which he chased home the sidelined Dynaste 12 months ago.
Hanlon said: “The problem I had with the horse last year was that he wasn’t settling, he pulled his way through the Ryanair the whole way.
“We’ve done a lot of work with him at home and he’s learning to put his mind together and settles much better.”
The home team is headed by Alan King’s Balder Succes and the Nicky Henderson-trained Ma Filleule, first and second respectively in last month’s Ascot Chase.
King said: “He did it very well (at Ascot). He probably got in front a bit too soon as he was not doing a lot from the last, but we were thrilled with him and he’s in good form and a good place.”
Ma Filleule was runner-up to Gold Cup contender Holywell at last year’s Festival before a scintillating victory over the National fences at Aintree.
This season has not been plain sailing for the grey mare, but Henderson was encouraged by her Ascot effort and believes she can reverse the form with King’s ace.
“She won the Topham last year, she only just got beat by Holywell at Cheltenham and that was a very good performance,” said Henderson.
“Two and a half (miles) is a good trip for her, she ran a very good race at Ascot the other day and we were pretty sure she’d need that as she was wrong at Christmas but she’s coming to herself now.”
Johns Spirit has already won three times over fences at Cheltenham, but those victories were in handicap company and trainer Jonjo O’Neill admits his charge faces a far tougher task today.
He said: “Johns Spirit has improved this year but he needs to up his game on the day.
“If he does that he will run a big race in the Ryanair.”
Wonderful Charm is an outsider for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, but the master of Ditcheat feels he could outrun his odds.
He said: “He could run a decent race at a big price.”
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