First run in 1987, The Irish Gold Cup, proved a pretty solid guide to success in it’s English counterpart in the nineteen nineties, with both Jodami (pictured, 1993) and Imperial Call, (1996) both bringing off the double in the same season. However it has taken another twenty years for the feat to be repeated, when last year’s Hero, Sizing John collected both prizes. With this year’s renewal of The Cheltenham Gold Cup having such an open look, it is by no means impossible, that Sunday’s winner might just become the fourth to bag the elusive double. Having trained an amazing nine previous winners, the master of Closutton, Willie Mullins, is leagues ahead of the opposition, and with two very viable candidates for this year’s renewal, Killultagh Vic and Djakadam, he must be harbouring serious hopes of getting into double figures.
A 9yo son of Old Vic, Killultagh Vic has only had the two outings over fences, both of which he won, but he was sidelined after the second of them, a Grade2 Leopardstown contest, two years ago. Following a 714 days break, he made a highly satisfactory reappearance over hurdles at Punchestown five weeks ago, winning by 2 3/4L from Ex Patriot. This previous high class staying hurdler, a winner at The Cheltenham Festival, and conqueror of the outstanding Thistlecrack in a Punchestown Grade1, achieved a rating of 157 in that discipline, and promises to be at least as good over fences. If overcoming his inexperience on Sunday, he can be involved at the business end.
Twice a winner at Grade1 level and twice runner up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the 9yo, Djakadam has clearly been a great servant to connections. He followed last year’s fourth to Sizing John in The Gold Cup at Cheltenham by beating the same animal by a short head at The Punchestown Festival the following month, another excellent performance! He probably needed the race when beaten 7L by Sizing John over an in adequate 2 1/2m on his reappearance, following a seven month break, but his dismal performance eighteen days later at Leopardstown, when pulled up behind Road To Respect, is harder to explain. Perhaps the race came too soon. However connections” report him in good shape for Sunday, and it has been this pundits experience, that it often pays to forgive an animal the one bad run, and odds around the 10/1 mark at the time of writing look tempting.
The Jessica Harrington (pictured above) trained Our Duke won the Irish Grand National by 14L from Bless The Wings, conceding 16lbs, with his head in his chest, last April, and looked an animal destined for the very top. However the wheels seemed to come off on his reappearance at Down Royal six months later, when he trailed in seventh of eight, 51L behind the winner, Outlander. There were excuses, as he scoped dirty, and a back problem was also discovered as a contributory factor. His back has been successfully operated on, and all is now reported well with the 8yo. Prior to his National win, Our Duke had already shown himself to be out of the top drawer, when winning a three mile Leopardstown Grade1 from the very useful Coney Island, (won next time out at Ascot, a year later, giving Adrienne Du Pont eleven pounds, and a nine lengths beating) in December 2016. A slight reservation would be that he didn’t have the speed to cope with Disko over 2m5 1/2f last February, and went down by 1 3/4L to that top class performer in another Leopardstown Grade1. He will need a truly run three miles on Sunday which he should get. If Our Duke arrives at the top of his game at the weekend he will be hard to beat and might just put himself in line for that Gold Cup double.
The Tony Martin trained Anibale Fly looks interesting. Mostly campaigned at shorter than three miles, the 8yo looked an improved performer when winning a valuable 3m 1/2f Handicap Chase easily by 7L from the useful Ucello Conti, to whom he was giving 10lbs, over the course, at the end of December. Now rated on the 159 mark he doesn’t need to find that much more to be competitive on Sunday, and coming from this yard, and owned by JP Mc Manus it wouldn’t come as the greatest surprise if he did.
Beaten under three lengths when finishing second in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Jonjo O’Neill trained Minella Rocco ran reasonably well when finishing fourth behind Road To Respect over course and distance at the Christmas meeting. It was too early In last year’s renewal when he unseated Aidan Coleman at the seventh, to draw any conclusions, but he was sent off a 7/1 shot, so if he does run, (also engaged Newbury Saturday) would be worth a second look.
The 10yo Outlander, trained by the hugely talented Gordon Elliot, who continues in such good form, is a rather enigmatic type, rarely running two consecutive races alike, but he does have a great record at the track. He won on all of his first four appearances at the south Dublin track, and last time, in his fifth race at the course, he was a good third to Road To Respect. One never knows quite what to expect from Outlander but he clearly enjoys the Leopardstown air and is hard to ignore.
Selection : Our Duke
E.W. : Killultagh Vic