Champion jockey Tony McCoy expects Last Instalment to be in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup shake-up following his Irish Hennessy win.
McCoy did not have a ride in the Grade One heat but was very impressed was the performance of Last Instalment, who ran out an eight-and-a-half-length winner for trainer Philip Fenton and jockey Brian O’Connell.
“The Festival is getting very close with only four weeks to go and most of the Cheltenham horses will now have had their last runs,” said McCoy on his Cheltenham racecourse blog.
“It was an informative weekend with the racing at Newbury and Leopardstown, and I have to say that I think Last Instalment is right in the Betfred Gold Cup picture after his win in the Irish Hennessy.
“I thought he was very impressive and he is definitely a player for Cheltenham. I had viewed the Gold Cup as a two-horse race between Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti for much of the season, but Last Instalment is right in there with them.
“He jumped very well on Sunday and would probably want a bit of cut in the ground at Cheltenham, which he might get given the way things are at the moment.
“Harry Topper won OK at Newbury the day before and he, like The Giant Bolster, is a very consistent horse. One of those two will probably finish fourth in the Gold Cup but the form of the top three is just that much stronger.”
All the major contenders stood their ground for the race at the latest forfeit stage, with 11 original entries scratched.
First Lieutenant’s Cheltenham Festival target meanwhile is likely to be dictated by the ground.
Trainer Mouse Morris felt the high-calibre nine-year-old was hamstrung by soft going at Leopardstown on Sunday when he finished third behind Last Instalment.
First Lieutenant holds entries in the Betfred Gold Cup and in the Ryanair Chase, but Morris will not commit to either race until he has a better handle on what conditions will be like at Cheltenham in March.
He said: “There’s not a bother on him, and you’d have to put Leopardstown down to the ground.
“You can’t take anything away from the winner, but our lad only jumped OK in that ground.
“He still ran his usual, consistent race, though, so we weren’t too disappointed.
“I haven’t talked to the owners yet, but it (Cheltenham target) depends on the ground.
“If the ground comes up soft it will be probably be the Ryanair, but if it came up good it will probably be the other one (Gold Cup).
“I wouldn’t be advising anyone to back him for either race just yet.”
McCoy also expects Jezki to be ridden more prominently than has been the case so far this season when he contests the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Jessica Harrington’s charge was last of four behind Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, but McCoy feels they have been getting their tactics wrong.
Whether McCoy will be on board at Cheltenham is another matter though, as he could also ride Nicky Henderson’s My Tent Or Yours, who will now head straight to the Festival after skipping a possible prep run at Kelso this week.
“Hurricane Fly was very impressive when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle and he is still the one they have to beat at Cheltenham,” McCoy wrote on his blog for Cheltenham racecourse.
“People will question the form and say Captain Cee Bee was not beaten far, but you have to remember that Hurricane Fly was in trouble coming to the last and still won by a length and a half.
“He keeps on winning and until that changes, he is the one to beat. I rode Jezki in the race and we finished fourth, but looking back we have been riding him wrong as he wants two and a half miles and I think positive tactics will see him to much better effect.
“If he is more positively ridden in a strong-run Champion Hurdle, then he has definitely got an each-way chance.
“JP (McManus) also has My Tent Or Yours in the Champion Hurdle, but I will be leaving a decision on who I ride until the last moment. Things are very much up in the air at the moment and I probably won’t make the choice until the day before.”
A total of 11 horses stood their ground for the race at the latest forfeit stage.
Former winner Rock On Ruby, who is on target for the Arkle, the sidelined Cinders And Ashes and Grandouet, another Arkle hope, are no longer under consideration.
Willie Mullins has four contenders in Hurricane Fly, Annie Power, Un De Sceaux and Thousand Stars and there were no surprise withdrawals.
Hidden Cyclone has been taken out of the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival with the Ryanair Chase left as his sole option if he runs at the meeting.
As low as 12-1 for the two-mile championship after finishing second to Benefficient and Sire De Grugy in his last two runs over the trip, his trainer John “Shark” Hanlon feels a step back up in distance would see him in a better light, although no definite decision has been made on his participation.
“We just felt that (as) he ran such a good race in the Paddy Power Gold Cup over that trip and with a big weight, he might have more of a chance in the Ryanair,” said Hanlon.
“On better ground I think he’d stay the trip that bit better.
“He’s not guaranteed to go and nothing is set in stone, but if we went to the Ryanair there would be no Sprinter Sacre or Sire De Grugy.
“I think he’s better going left-handed, it certainly helps his jumping.
“Benefficient looks like being favourite for the Ryanair if Cue Card runs in the Gold Cup, and I think we could beat Benefficient on better ground. “There’s no big decision yet, though.”
King Of The Picts, third in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday, is likely be preserved for the Crabbie’s Grand National meeting at Aintree in April.
Pat Shanahan’s five-year-old has done well since joining the County Kilkenny handler from Dessie Hughes’ yard last summer and turned in another fair effort at the weekend.
Shanahan is unlikely to risk King Of The Picts in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and will instead chart a route towards Merseyside this spring.
He said: “He’s never run a bad race for me and I was very pleased with him on Sunday.
“He’s been a good money-spinner for the yard, but he’s only a small horse so I don’t think he’ll be tough enough for Cheltenham.
“We’ll go to Liverpool instead. I don’t know which race yet, but he goes very well fresh so we’ll leave him alone until then.”
Dunguib is more likely to contest Sunday’s Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle at Navan than the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran 24 hours earlier.
Trainer Philip Fenton, buoyed by the Hennessy success of Last Instalment, is not keen on meeting the likes of Un De Sceaux on the wrong weight terms.
Instead, the 2009 Champion Bumper winner will step up in trip for the two-mile-five-furlong Grade Two.
“He seems to be in great form, but he is a good bit wrong at the weights with a few horses on Saturday, so I am leaning more towards running him on Sunday - I’d say it is 60/40 in favour of Navan at the minute,” said Fenton.
“That race is over two miles and five, but I don’t think that will be an issue for him and he handles soft ground well.
“We are looking at a couple of the handicaps for him at Cheltenham, but we’ll get the weekend out of the way first.”
Gordon Elliott will be represented by Un Beau Matin, second to stablemate Mala Beach last time out in the Galmoy Hurdle.
“He is in good form, he ran well the last day at Gowran and he loves this soft ground. The plan is for him to run on Sunday,” he said.
Ted Walsh’s Foxrock, ante-post favourite for the four-mile National Hunt Chase next month, will have his prep run in the Ten Up Novice Chase.
“All being well he’ll go to Navan and he seems to be in good form,” said Walsh.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved